Hope and concern: Arkansas

For the second straight year, hope springs eternal in the Arkansas camp, but there’s also reason for concern.

Biggest reason for hope: A defense with all the right pieces

To win championships in this league, you have to play championship-caliber defense. Everybody knows the Hogs have the firepower on offense to score points in bunches. Now, they have that same kind of firepower on defense to create turnovers, come up with key stops and keep teams out of the end zone. The defensive front should be one of the deepest in the league, and the addition of junior college tackle Robert Thomas (6-3, 325 pounds) this spring only added to the Hogs’ athleticism and size. Senior linebackers Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson are back after finishing No. 1 and No. 2 on the team in tackles last season, while senior Tramain Thomas returns as one of the best all-around safeties in the league. It’s easily the most speed the Hogs have had on defense since Bobby Petrino has been in Fayetteville, and it’s also an experienced defense. Arkansas was able to lean on its defense in spots a year ago. This coming season, it may be that the Hogs set the tone defensively in just about every game.

Biggest reason for concern: Youth in the offensive line

The Hogs were a veteran offensive line last season, particularly at tackle, and that was a big reason for their offensive success. It will flip the other way in 2011 when Arkansas is expected to field one of the youngest offensive lines in the league. True freshman Brey Cook worked much of the spring as one of the starting tackles after enrolling early. He’s mature beyond his years and already one of the strongest players on the team, but it’s always a thrill a minute in this league when a true freshman is starting at offensive tackle. Sophomore Anthony Oden could be the starter at the other tackle spot after redshirting last season. Oden was suspended for the opener and was then forced to withdraw from school in the fall because of complications from mononucleosis. The Hogs will be equally young inside, although talented. Sophomore center Travis Swanson and sophomore guard Alvin Bailey both started as freshmen last season.