SEC: Darius Winston

Even though Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson hasn't been cleared to practice, coach John L. Smith said on Wednesday that he felt better about Wilson's chances of playing against Alabama Saturday.

"I am more optimistic, but that decision has not been made yet and not in my hands," Smith said. "I’m keeping fingers crossed as well."

Wilson suffered a head injury when he was knocked out of Arkansas' 34-31 overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe late in the second quarter. Smith is hoping doctors will clear him to practice either Wednesday or Thursday.

"He was out there yesterday, so maybe he'll able to get out and do some throwing and all of that and be able to go today a little bit," Smith said.

If Wilson can't go, Smith said either Brandon Allen or Brandon Mitchell will take his spot. Allen filled in for Wilson against Louisiana-Monroe, completing 6 of 20 passes for 85 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Mitchell arrived at Arkansas as a quarterback, but has spent the first two games lining up at wide receiver, where he has caught four catches for 122 yards.

Smith said that even if Mitchell does have more responsibility at quarterback this weekend, he'll still get some reps at wide receiver.

"You have to assume that Brandon’s going to be out there a ton," he said.

Smith also said that cornerback Tevin Mitchel is out for the Alabama game after undergoing gall bladder surgery that Smith said was "totally unrelated" to the hit that knocked him out of last Saturday's game.

The plan is to use seniors Kaelon Kelleybrew and Darius Winston to fill Mitchel's spot. If needed, Smith said he might even burn Jared Collins' redshirt if he absolutely has to.

"We’d still like to save a redshirt if you could, but you have to prepare that guy just to make sure you have enough bodies to get you out of a game, should something happen," Smith said.
We continue to rank all the positions in the SEC and turn our attention to groups of defensive backs the conference has to offer.

Past rankings:
On to the league's secondaries:

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Dale Zanine/US PresswireTyrann Mathieu is a force to be reckoned with in the LSU secondary.
1. LSU: The Tigers bring back a load of talent here. Tyrann Mathieu and his Honey Badger persona return, but he might not be LSU's best pure corner. While Mathieu has a true knack for finding the ball, no matter where he is, junior Tharold Simon, who replaces Thorpe Award winner Morris Claiborne, might have the best cover ability on the team. Junior safety Eric Reid takes the back end of the field away and will challenge to be one of the nation's top safeties this fall. The coaches are still waiting for safety Craig Loston to break out, and his solid spring was an encouragement. Keep an eye on safety Micah Eugene, who turned heads this spring.

2. Georgia: The Bulldogs have some depth concerns and some players will face early-season suspensions, but the Bulldogs are loaded at the top. Bacarri Rambo is one of the nation's best safeties and he has a very solid partner in Shawn Williams, who led the Dawgs in tackles last year. Seniors Sanders Commings and Branden Smith are back, but will likely sit out the start of the year because of suspension. That leaves Malcolm Mitchell, who moved from receiver, to fill in and he's no stranger to defense. The coaches are also excited about youngster Damian Swann, who will play early.

3. Alabama: With three starters gone, this group is drawing a lot of comparisons to the 2010 unit that struggled at times. However, this batch of DBs insists it'll be more prepared this fall and shakes off the comparisons. Veteran Robert Lester is back at safety and is an All-SEC-type player. Junior cornerback Dee Milliner has 16 career starts under his belt and is an underrated talent, and the coaches are expecting to get a lot out of junior college transfers Travell Dixon and Deion Belue. Keep an eye on safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, who has the talent to be a star in this league.

4. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs own one of the league's best corner duos in seniors Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Banks might hold the title as the league's best returning cover corner. Darius Slay is also another corner to watch, as he has some legit playmaking ability. Junior safety Nickoe Whitley is back as well and he would have had better numbers if not for a ruptured Achilles tendon that cut his 2011 season short. He grabbed four interceptions in nine games and should be 100 percent this fall.

5. Florida: This group was pretty young last year, but now has some quality experience under its belt. Safety Matt Elam is the best of the bunch and should challenge to be the league's top safety this year. Sophomore Marcus Roberson had a solid freshman season and has the makings to be a top cover corner in this league. The other corner spot is up for grabs, but keep an eye on sophomore Loucheiz Purifoy, who the staff is very excited about. Josh Evans had a good spring at free safety, but he'll have his hands full fighting off sophomore De'Ante Saunders, who started nine games last year.

6. Missouri: The star of this group is junior corner E.J. Gaines, who recorded only two interceptions, but he broke up 16 passes in 2011 and is bonafide All-SEC candidate. Across from Gaines is senior Kip Edwards, who returns for his second year as a starter and has 37 games to his credit. Edwards turned into a solid cover man toward the end of last season. Seven players return with starting experience, including safeties Kenronte Walker (four starts), who was named the team's most improved safety this spring, and Braylon Webb (four), who had a strong freshman year.

7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks are down three starters, but they aren't without talent. Senior safety D.J. Swearinger, the lone returning starter, is one of the league's top safeties and is solid against the pass and the run. Vet Akeem Auguste returns after missing all of last year with a foot injury, and he's back at corner after moving to safety in 2010. The questions begin with sophomores Victor Hampton (corner) and Brison Williams (safety). Hampton has the talent to succeed, but has some maturing to do. Williams struggled in his only start last year, but the staff really likes his upside.

8. Vanderbilt: Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson are gone, but the Commodores still possess some pretty good talent in the secondary, starting with corner Trey Wilson, who had a solid 2011 in Hayward's shadow. The coaches like what they've seen from junior corner Andre Hal, and safety Kenny Ladler could be a real player at free safety. Expect Eric Samuels and Javon Marshall, who have both see plenty of field time in their careers, to get into the safety rotation this fall.

9. Auburn: The Tigers' secondary took some lumps last year, but certainly has experience back there. Three veteran starters are back with 33 combined starts from a year ago. Fifth-year senior cornerback T'Sharvan Bell didn't go through spring while he recovered from knee surgery, but has the talent to be a top corner in this league. Juniors Chris Davis (corner) and Demetruce McNeal are both back and sophomore Jermaine Whitehead, who had a solid freshman campaign, will get time at safety.

10. Tennessee: Tennessee gave up 7 yards per attempt last year, but things could turnaround this fall. Tennessee has a lot of game experience at corner, including senior Prentiss Waggner, who is the leader of the group. Sophomore Brian Randolph had a solid freshman campaign and junior Brent Brewer is returning to the other safety spot after suffering an ACL injury in late October. Izauea Lanier was ruled ineligible this summer, meaning Marsalis Teague and Eric Gordon will compete with Justin Coleman for a corner spot.

11. Arkansas: Sophomore Tevin Mitchel had a solid first year in Fayetteville and is on course to have a true breakout year this fall. Junior Eric Bennett is holding down one of the safety sports and started 13 games in 2011 after moving from cornerback last spring. The staff is still waiting on senior corner Darius Winston to live up to the hype that followed him from high school. Freshmen Kelvin Fisher Jr. and Davyon McKinney will get their chances to play this fall and help with depth.

12. Ole Miss: The Rebels should be better against the pass this year and things start with veteran safety Charles Sawyer, who has All-SEC quality and should have had at least three more than the four interceptions he recorded last year. Former JUCO transfer corner Wesley Pendleton had an impressive year last season, but looked even better this spring. Nickolas Brassell is gone, but the coaches hope to get more out of former freshman standout Senquez Golson, and junior Brishen Mathews returns from back injury to take the hybrid Husky position.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats must replace two starting corners, but the coaches feel good about senior Cartier Rice and redshirt freshman Marcus Caffey. Caffey, who moved from running back, might have the most upside and was one of Kentucky's top players this spring. Senior starting safeties Martavius Neloms and Mikie Benton are back. Neloms had a solid spring and racked up 71 tackles last year. Behind them, the Wildcats are full of unproven youngsters.

14. Texas A&M: This is where the Aggies could really struggle. Texas A&M ranked 109th nationally in pass defense last year and could start three sophomores in its secondary this fall. Senior safety Steven Campbell can be a real playmaker for this group, but he's struggled to stay healthy during his career. Senior Dustin Harris has shown flashes on defense, but left spring as a backup to sophomore Deshazor Everett. Sophomore Floyd Raven, who was impressive this spring, has the edge over JUCO transfer Tremaine Jacobs at the other corner spot. The coaches are hoping this is a more athletic group in 2012.
We return to our bounce-back players series with the Arkansas Razorbacks:

OFFENSE

Dennis Johnson, RB, Jr.: Johnson is back after a punctured intestine injury shelved him for most of the 2010 season. Johnson showed in the past that he's one of the most exciting return men in the league and he adds another body to what is a stacked backfield in Fayetteville. The loss of senior Broderick Green, who was the team's leading rusher in 2009, to a torn ACL this spring, means Johnson will share more carries with Knile Davis and Ronnie Wingo. Johnson averaged 25.78 yards per kickoff return, and 111.15 yards of total offense per game in 2009. He also returned 40 kickoffs for a school-record 1,031 yards and a touchdown, and enters the fall as the SEC's active leader for career kickoff return yards and total return yards with 2,014.

DEFENSE

De'Anthony Curtis, CB, Sr.: This is the final go-round for Curtis. He arrived at Arkansas as a highly regarded wide receiver out of high school, but after failing to produce much on the offensive side of the ball, he moved to cornerback this spring with hopes of earning more playing time. Curtis practiced some at the boundary corner position this spring, but fell behind sophomore Jerry Mitchell. He's also hoping he can challenge junior Darius Winston, who started six games last season, for the corner spot opposite Isaac Madison. Curtis played in 34 games at receiver, but for him to end his Arkansas career on a high note, he'll need to show that he can be a factor on defense this fall. The Razorbacks have good depth in the secondary, so it won't be easy for him.

Hogs looking for right combo in secondary

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
7:00
AM ET
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is optimistic about what he’s seen out of the Hogs’ cornerbacks this spring.

So much so that senior Rudell Crim worked at safety Tuesday in practice. Crim started all 13 games at cornerback last season, but played safety in junior college.

Arkansas, which was last in the SEC in pass defense a year ago, should have some depth at cornerback in 2010, especially with junior Isaac Madison set to return after missing all of last season with a torn ACL.

Crim’s move to safety also tells you something about the lack of stability at that position. The Hogs are still looking for the right combination in the secondary, and Petrino said they would continue to move people around in order to get the best four players on the field.

With Crim sliding over to safety, sophomore Darius Winston worked with the first team Tuesday at cornerback. The Hogs also feel good about sophomore David Gordon’s potential at cornerback, although Gordon has been limited this spring and still has prove he can stay healthy.

The Hogs’ most experienced cornerback is senior and three-year letterman Ramon Broadway, who started in five games last season and six the year before.

Madison also did more Tuesday in practice than he’s done to this point in the spring, and he’ll get some contact in Saturday’s Red-White spring game. Losing Madison last preseason was a huge blow to Arkansas’ defense.

“We’ve got some guys back there who’ve played,” Petrino said. “What they need now is for something good to happen to them, to play well early next season and build on that confidence.”

Hogs get good news on Winston

July, 14, 2009
7/14/09
10:28
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Arkansas will take all the help it can get in its secondary this season, and more could be on the way.

One of the Hogs' prized signees in this freshman class, cornerback Darius Winston of Helena, Ark., was informed Monday that he had made it through the NCAA Clearinghouse process and would be eligible in the fall.

Winston was rated by Scouts Inc. as the No. 3 cornerback prospect in the country last year. The Hogs gave up an SEC-high 22 touchdown passes last season, and Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has made it clear that the competition for spots during preseason practice will be intense.

In addition to Winston, junior college safety Anthony Leon figures to be a key addition, and the Hogs are also hopeful that sophomore safety Elton Ford recovers in full after a cracked vertebrae in his neck cut short a stellar freshman season.

Petrino breaks down Arkansas' class

February, 6, 2009
2/06/09
5:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Arkansas' second signing class under Bobby Petrino was significant on a couple of different fronts.

If you're into rankings, the Razorbacks' class checked in at No. 20 nationally by Scouts Inc., one of their highest ranked classes in school history.

Even more important to Petrino was that they got every prospect they targeted in the state, which was one of Petrino's stated goals when he took the job -- to lock down the state of Arkansas.

The three big in-state gets were cornerback Darius Winston of Helena, Ark., running back/linebacker Turrell Williams of Helena, Ark., and offensive guard Colby Berna of Fayetteville, Ark. The 6-foot, 180-pound Winston was rated by Scouts Inc. as the No. 3 cornerback prospect in the country.

"I do want everyone to understand that this is a piece of the puzzle," Petrino said. "You know, you don't just win because you sign a good class or you think you've signed a good class. This is a good start."

The 2009 class includes five players from the state of Florida. Petrino has now signed six players from the Sunshine State in his two years in Fayetteville. That's more than the Hogs signed from the state of Florida from 2001-07 combined.

Remember, too, that the Hogs will be adding two key transfers to the mix next season -- quarterback Ryan Mallett from Michigan and running back Broderick Green from Southern California.

Here are some of Petrino's other thoughts on the class. The Razorbacks played 25 freshmen, including 16 true freshmen last season:

On recruiting nationally:

"It was important. I thought we did a great job in the state of Arkansas. Every home I went into we got the young man in the state of Arkansas. We did have to expand. We are going to go into Texas every year. We are going to go into Florida, Alabama, Georgia, but we also identified some areas we need to get players and recruited nation-wide at some of those positions. We went back to some of the contacts that some of our coaches had. We went to California, because that is where Willy Robinson grew up in the valley. Coach Horton was adamant about getting back into St. Louis because there has always been a good tradition there. I think what we did a good job of as a staff is last year when this day was over with we sat down and said how do we get better and where do we go. You always try to identify the positions you think you are going to recruit, but you have to have some flexibility."

On Darius Winston:

"We are very excited to have Darius. I remember sitting up in a small office upstairs and I was with one of our graduate assistants watching video and we were trying to find somebody on the video and all the sudden the number 23 keeps popping up and I said 'Who are we looking at? Find the number.' Obviously, we weren't looking at number 23 but it kept popping up, so I said 'Let's get on the phone and find out who this guy is,' and immediately we called Tim (Horton) and Tim knew everything about him, aunt and uncle's names, where his mom worked, and said they were already on him and recruiting him. But he is a guy that can really play the corner spot and we don't look for him to play anything else. We want to get him out there and let him cover. He can come up in press coverage and bump and run. He can play off, break on the ball, make plays with his hands and he is a tremendous tackler, and I think that is what stood out as much as anything is how physical he is playing that skilled position."

On recruiting defensive backs:

"We first identified a need for offensive and defensive linemen and I think we did a good job of hitting that. It was an emphasis in the secondary. We wanted to get bigger, faster and more physical there. Last year, we played with a lot of young guys there and they grew up and got better. They are going to compete extremely hard. I think the competition we will have when everyone gets here on campus will make everybody better."

On playing freshmen:

"Last year, we knew we had to play more freshmen than we would have liked. It would be nice to get back to playing six to eight a year. The one thing that you do as these guys sign (Wednesday) is starting tomorrow they need to prepare themselves physically and mentally to come in and play as true freshmen. They need to challenge themselves to get into condition to play. We will need some to contribute, but I don't think we will need 16."

On Turell Williams:

"He played both (running back and linebacker) in high school. He did a great job running the ball, but every time we'd go in and meet with him and talk to him he talked about being a linebacker and wanting to play linebacker, so he will come in and start out at linebacker because that is what he wants to do and that is his choice and then we will find out what his best fit is and where he can get on the field the fastest. He is a very physical runner and a big guy that is going to continue to get bigger and faster."

On Brandon Mitchell:

"I'm fired up about Brandon. When we first started this process we had a quarterback committed and didn't know if we would take two quarterbacks or not. We actually stumbled into Brandon a little bit when one of the players who had committed to us had a head coach who was coaching an all-star game. He told Coach Robinson you need to get down and see this guy. He picked up the offense in three days, he can throw the football and he can run, but most importantly he's very sharp. Coach went and saw him and started the recruiting process. He gives us a little different flavor because he can create some plays with his legs and speed. In this day and age with all the speed you see on the defensive line and in this conference he really excites me with his ability to do that."

On Broderick Green:

"He fits into our category that we talked about since we've gotten here, the big running back. We're excited about that. He's shown a tremendous amount of burst in high school, speed in high school. He's been working very, very hard in the weight room. Our strength and conditioning staff is very impressed with his work ethic and his explosiveness. He's a guy that has one of the highest vertical jumps that we have on the team, at 240 pounds. That says a lot for his explosiveness."

Arkansas recruiting needs

January, 27, 2009
1/27/09
3:56
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Arkansas looked like the SEC team at the end of the 2008 season that would be most likely to break through next season.

The Razorbacks played 25 freshmen, including 16 true freshmen, and were a few bounces away from being bowl eligible. This is Bobby Petrino's second recruiting class, and once again the Hogs are doing their best to upgrade the talent at every position.

The defensive side of the ball is where Arkansas needs to make up the most ground, and the Razorbacks have hit the cornerback and safety positions hard this recruiting period. Darius Winston of Helena, Ark., is the No. 3-rated cornerback prospect in the country by ESPN's Scouts Inc. He's also one of three players ranked among the state's top 5 prospects who has cast his lot with the Hogs.

David Gordon of Tulsa, Okla., is the No. 12-ranked cornerback prospect in the country and could also see early playing time in an Arkansas secondary that was extremely young last season.

Offensively, one of the priorities was to get more physical in the running game and find some bigger running backs. The Hogs love what Michael Smith brings to the table, but he's only 167 pounds. They struggled in short-yardage situations last season and hope Knile Davis of Missouri City, Texas, can fill that void along with fullback prospect Jahron Brown of Dallas, Ga.

Don't forget about Southern California transfer Broderick Green, either. He's a 235-pound bruiser who's already in school.

The Razorbacks, who are obviously throwing the ball much more under Petrino than they ever did under Houston Nutt, will be looking for receiving threats every year. They also wanted to load up on offensive linemen with two of their starters from a year ago departing, including All-American center Jonathan Luigs.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

SEC SCOREBOARD

Wednesday, 12/24
Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12