HOOVER, Ala. – The season of great expectations can’t get here soon enough in the state of Arkansas.
And say this for the Hogs: They aren’t running from those expectations. Instead, they’re embracing them, almost immersing themselves in them.
“When you have high expectations, it means that you played good football at the end of the year last year and you have a lot of returning players coming back,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “To me, that’s what the start of the season is all about -- how you finished the year and who do you have coming back that played for you and started for you a year ago.
“We do return a lot of starters.”
Senior tight end D.J. Williams dismissed any possibility that the Hogs would get caught up in all the grandiose visions of the fans.
“I don’t think that’s an issue, because our expectations are higher than anybody’s,” Williams said. “The only thing we put any stock in is how hard we work and how well we prepare. We’ve got the players. We’ve just got to go do it.”
Skeptics would argue that the Hogs have the players on offense to make a legitimate run at their first SEC championship, but the jury is still out on defense.
Not for long, says Williams.
“They brought it every day this spring against us,” he said. “You’ll see. It’s a whole different defense, a whole different mindset.”
Any concern about the defense has sort of been put on the back burner this offseason, though. That’s because everybody’s been on "Foot Watch" with quarterback Ryan Mallett.
He wasn’t sporting the protective walking boot Thursday as he strolled from one room to the next at the SEC media days and said he’ll be full go when preseason practice begins next month. Mallett underwent two different surgeries after breaking a bone in his left foot during conditioning drills in the winter and didn’t go through spring practice.
Mallett admitted that he’s sort of learning how to run again after not doing any hard-core running or cutting for the past four or five months. He is back to jogging and doing some light running, and most of his conditioning work has come in the swimming pool or on the stationary bike.
And even though he hasn’t been 100 percent physically, he’s still been the heartbeat of this team during the offseason as the Hogs bear down on the most anticipated season in the Ozarks in a long while.
“He’s always there picking guys up, in the middle of everything we’re doing, even when he had that boot on,” junior defensive end Jake Bequette said. “He’s a great leader for us, and it’s good to have him at full speed.”
How good can this team be?
Well, remember what Mallett exclaimed when he announced that he was returning to Arkansas this season and passing on the NFL draft?
Those two words are emblazoned on the cover of the Arkansas media guide with a picture of Mallett, who gushes about the talent around him.
“We’ve got more athletes and more talent than any other Arkansas team has had in the past,” said Mallett, referring to some of the Hogs’ teams that didn’t quite live up to the expectations in recent years.
One thing’s for sure. We won’t have to wait long to see if the Hogs are for real. They travel to Georgia the third week of the season and then entertain Alabama a week later in Fayetteville.
“The only way it’s going to be a special season is for us to make it one, and we definitely think we have a chance to be special,” Williams said.