Summer stock: Alabama and Arkansas

May, 23, 2011
5/23/11
11:00
AM ET
ESPN's Summer Stock series has revisited the SEC.

LaRue Cook checked in on Alabama Insider, while Jeff Dooley took a look at Arkansas Insider.

Cook focuses mainly on the Crimson Tide defense, which should be much improved from last season. This spring was all about maturation for the defense. The group that struggled last season could be the strength this fall.

Cook writes that the feeling in Tuscaloosa is that the Tide's defense could be eerily similar to the defense that helped carry Alabama to a national championship in 2009:
Nick Saban's defensive depth chart alone is enough to put the Tide in the early conversation of teams capable of keeping the BCS trophy in the SEC's case for a sixth straight season.

One of the goals for Alabama's defense this year is to force teams into more third-and-long situations.

"You've got to be able to contain on fourth down, and the loss to Auburn is just immaturity," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "This season we've talked about forcing teams into third and longs and stopping them before those situations ever have a chance to happen."

Dooley talks both Arkansas' offense and defense. The Razorbacks' defense did well last season, but had an issue with giving up big plays. Arkansas ranked first in the SEC third-down defense percentage (33.5) and second in sacks (2.85) and tackles for loss (7.31) per game. However, the Hogs ranked seventh in points allowed, giving up 23.4 points per game and were 10th in rushing defense (162.6).

With an improved defense this season, the feeling is that Arkansas should be able to put even more pressure on opponents this fall to cut down on the the amount of big plays allowed.

Despite Arkansas returning offensive stars Greg Childs, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams at wide receiver and Knile Davis at running back, Dooley writes that the offense sill needs to develop more leadership in the locker room in order for it to be as good as it was last season:
The offensive line still needs to come together, as it is a talented but inexperienced group that could feature a true freshman starting tackle in Brey Cook. But perhaps the coaches' biggest challenge on offense will be replacing quarterback Ryan Mallett. Not only did Mallett post an exceptional QB rating (the passing category that most closely correlates to winning in college football) and rack up nearly 3,900 yards passing, but he also proved that as he went, so did Arkansas (he was knocked out with a concussion in one Razorbacks loss and committed critical turnovers in the other two). And perhaps most importantly, he was a strong-voiced leader in a locker room that now, according to coaches, is lacking leadership.

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