2012 record: 4-8
2012 conference record: 2-6
Returning starters: Offense: 5; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Dennis Johnson (757 yards)
Passing: Tyler Wilson (3,387 yards)
Receiving: Cobi Hamilton (1,335 yards)
Tackles: Ross Rasner (92)
Sacks: Chris Smith* (9.5)
Interceptions: Ross Rasner (3)
1. Front loaded: It’s always comforting to be good and experienced up front on defense, and the Hogs’ strength coming out of the spring was clearly their defensive line. Ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers are back after combining for 26 tackles for loss last season (15.5 sacks), and the Hogs also feel good about their senior tackle tandem of Byran Jones and Robert Thomas. Equally promising is a trio of redshirt freshmen – ends JaMichael Winston and Deatrich Wise, Jr., and tackle Darius Philon.
2. Allen moves to the front: There will still be competition once preseason camp begins, but sophomore Brandon Allen exited spring as the Hogs’ starting quarterback after separating himself from senior Brandon Mitchell. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was pleased with Allen’s steady progress throughout the spring and his ability to move the team on offense. The Hogs’ coaches also have more faith in Allen right now in terms of his ability to take care of the football.
3. Getting physical: Bielema is committed to the Hogs being balanced on offense, which is a big reason why he brought in Jim Chaney as his offensive coordinator. But anybody who watched Bielema’s Wisconsin teams play on offense over the last few seasons knows how deeply he believes in being physical up front and pounding the football. The Hogs aren’t all the way there yet, but made strides this spring with their overall physicality on offense.
1. Finding offensive playmakers: The guys who made most of the plays on offense the last few seasons for the Hogs are gone. It’s still not clear who will be their go-to playmakers in 2013. Senior receivers Javontee Herndon, Julian Horton and Demetrius Wilson will step into the spotlight with Cobi Hamilton no longer around, and sophomore running back Jonathan Williams needs to keep coming. He’s up to 220 pounds and has some burst. He also has some help on the way. Heralded true freshman Alex Collins will be on campus this summer.
2. Counting on Spaight: One of the most important junior college newcomers wasn’t on campus for the spring. Linebacker Martrell Spaight will join the team this summer, and getting him up to speed will be critical. He has the ability to play all three linebacker spots. The Hogs were hit hard by injuries at linebacker last season and had to play several young guys there. If Spaight is a quick learner, he could go a long way toward solidifying the linebacker corps for the Hogs.
3. Restoring confidence: After the Hogs won 21 games during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, confidence permeated the Arkansas program. But the bottom fell out last year on the heels of Bobby Petrino’s ouster and then a forgettable season on the field. It’s important that the Hogs play well early and have some success to help regain that confidence. Bielema brought in a veteran staff, and the players have bought in. Those first four games in September would seem to set up nicely for the Hogs. A 4-0 start would provide a ton of momentum.