Schedule: Arkansas opens spring practice on Wednesday at 4:50 p.m. ET. Six of the Hogs’ 15 practices will be open this spring. Those dates are Wednesday and Thursday of this week, March 30, April 6, April 13 and the Red-White spring game on April 21, which will kick off at 3 p.m. ET.
What’s new: Paul Haynes takes over as the Hogs’ defensive coordinator after coming over from Ohio State, where he was the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach last season. He’d worked with the Buckeyes’ defensive backs from 2005-10. Haynes was hired in time to coach in the AT&T Cotton Bowl last season with the Hogs. He replaced Willy Robinson, who was fired. Paul Petrino returns to Arkansas as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after spending the past two seasons at Illinois. He replaces Garrick McGee, who left to take the head-coaching job at UAB. Other first-year assistants include linebackers coach Taver Johnson and defensive tackles coach Kevin Peoples. Defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell will add special teams to his duties after John L. Smith left to take the Weber State head-coaching job. Bobby Allen, who coached the Hogs' defensive tackles last season, will work with the secondary this season.
On the mend: Star running back Knile Davis has been cleared to practice after missing all of last season with a fractured ankle, but the Hogs have yet to decide if he will receive any live contact this spring.
On the move: Sophomore Brey Cook is moving back to offensive tackle after spending most of last season at guard. Sophomore Mitch Smothers is listed at guard this spring. Smothers started the first four games last season at offensive tackle. He became the first true freshman in Arkansas school history to start the season opener on the offensive line.
Key battle: The Hogs know what they have in senior receiver Cobi Hamilton, but they’re going to need other playmakers to emerge in the passing game with Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs all departing. Senior tight end Chris Gragg is sure to be one of Tyler Wilson’s favorite targets, but this spring is big for juniors Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon to establish themselves as consistent threats in the Hogs’ passing game. The same goes for sophomores Marquel Wade and Keante Minor, and 6-foot-4, 200-pound redshirt freshman Quinta Funderburk gets a chance to make his move.
New faces: Freshman tight end Demetrius Dean, who initially signed in 2011 with Arkansas, is on campus and will go through spring practice. Junior college defensive end Austin Flynn is another newcomer to watch. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Flynn played the past two seasons at Los Angeles Harbor Community College and has been clocked at 4.55 in the 40-yard dash. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has referred to Flynn as a “clone” of Jake Bequette. Flynn is expected to compete with junior Chris Smith for one of the starting end positions.
Breaking out: The Hogs will no doubt be looking for linebackers this spring, but they welcome back one of the more underrated players in the league. Alonzo Highsmith returns to his starting linebacker spot after coming over from junior college last season and leading Arkansas' defenders with 12.5 tackles for loss. He was a very good player for the Hogs a year ago. Don’t be surprised if he develops into an All-SEC player his second time through the league. Highsmith will also need to be a leader. There’s not a lot of experience returning at linebacker. And staying on defense, sophomore cornerback Tevin Mitchel also has that look of a budding All-SEC player. He started in seven games last season as a true freshman and was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman Team.
Don’t forget about: It’s always a good sign when you’re strong up the middle on both lines of scrimmage, and the Hogs have talent, experience and depth on the interior in both their offensive and defensive lines. On offense, junior center Travis Swanson and junior guard Alvin Bailey return as one of the best center-guard tandems in the league. Then on defense, the Hogs have five tackles returning who’ve seen extensive playing time. Juniors Byran Jones and Robert Thomas are listed as the starters going into the spring, but seniors D.D. Jones, Alfred Davis and Lavunce Askew have all played a ton of snaps. Askew, who played some as a true freshman, redshirted last season.
All eyes on: How healthy does Knile Davis look? By all accounts, he’s ready to go and in great shape. Petrino said that Davis recently ran a personal-best 4.33 in the 40-yard dash. Davis was practicing some toward the end of last season, so getting back onto the practice field won’t be entirely new to him. The reality is that the Hogs will be guarded (and should be) with any live contact Davis receives. He doesn’t have anything to prove this spring. Arkansas returns a deep backfield stable with seniors Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo Jr. listed behind Davis on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Kody Walker is also back. He scored five touchdowns before a stress fracture in his shin forced him to have season-ending surgery.