Schedule: The Hogs will open spring practice on Sunday and conclude the spring with their annual Red-White game on April 13 at 3 p.m. ET. The practices will be closed to the public.
What’s new: The question is: What’s not new? Bret Bielema takes over as head coach after leading Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl each of the past three seasons. He brought his defensive coordinator, Chris Ash, with him from Wisconsin. Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge also came with Bielema from Wisconsin. Taver Johnson will coach the cornerbacks after coaching the Arkansas linebackers last season, and former Miami head coach Randy Shannon will coach the Hogs’ linebackers. Jim Chaney, who was at Tennessee the last four seasons, will be the Arkansas offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Sam Pittman followed Chaney from Tennessee and will coach the offensive line. Joel Thomas, previously at Washington, will coach the running backs. Former Arkansas quarterback Barry Lunney, Jr. will coach the tight ends, while Michael Smith comes over from Kansas State to coach the receivers. George McDonald was originally hired to be the Arkansas receivers coach, but left to take the Syracuse offensive coordinator’s job.
On the mend: Fullback Kody Walker, who broke his leg last season, will be limited this spring.
Question marks: Gone are three starters in the offensive line, and that’s an area where the Hogs struggled mightily last season. It’s a big spring for juniors Brey Cook and Mitch Smothers, two in-state products who could be poised to take big steps as every-game starters. Sorting out the receiver position will also be critical. The Hogs have a lot of guys coming back, but they need to find some consistent playmakers with Cobi Hamilton departing. Sophomore Mekale McKay and seniors Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon saw the most action last season. There’s a chance that some of the receivers could switch positions. Depth at linebacker is also a concern. A.J. Turner and Otha Peters both played as true freshmen a year ago and earned Freshman All-SEC honors.
New faces: The Hogs have four junior college newcomers on campus. Cornerback Carroll Washington, safety Tiquention Coleman, offensive lineman Johnathan McClure and linebacker Myke Tavarres are all expected to compete for starting jobs.
Key battle: Fifth-year senior Brandon Mitchell and third-year sophomore Brandon Allen will vie for the starting quarterback job. Mitchell, more of an extend-the-play quarterback, spent last season at receiver. Allen, the son of former Arkansas secondary coach Bobby Allen, was a highly rated pro-style quarterback coming out of high school. He threw 38 touchdown passes and no interceptions as a high school senior.
Breaking out: The strength of the team should be the defensive line with ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers returning along with tackles Byran Jones and Robert Thomas. But the Arkansas coaches are also excited to see some of the younger defensive lineman this spring. Redshirt freshman end Deatrich Wise, Jr., is up close to 260 pounds and has been impressive in the offseason program. JaMichael Winston and Darius Philon could also make big moves this spring.
Don’t forget about: Senior Kiero Small returns after missing last season with a foot injury. He spent the preseason working some at linebacker, too, but is expected to return full time to fullback and should help the running game. He’s an excellent blocker. Also, cornerback Tevin Mitchel should be healthy and ready to go after having some injury issues last season.
All eyes on: Bielema loves to run the football and made a living at Wisconsin with big, nasty offensive lines and bruising running backs. Chaney has put together excellent passing offenses during his career. It will be interesting to see how their two philosophies mesh and what kind of balance they can generate offensively, particularly with Tyler Wilson gone and a new quarterback taking the reins.