Did the refs have one last dance with Mary Jane before this game?
Note: This is the 1st of a 5-part series examining key questions for the Arkansas Razorbacks during their 2010 Spring Practices.
The University of Arkansas opens spring football today, and there are a number of intriguing plotlines to watch despite the fact that the Razorbacks return arguably the top Quarterback in the (Ryan Mallett) and a boat load of starters on both sides of the ball after finishing 8-5 last season and winning an absolutely miserable Liberty Bowl game in Memphis.
Over the next few weeks, I will be taking a look at some of those plotlines of the spring, beginning with today’s burning question:
1. Can the Arkansas Secondary avoid the big plays that were Heartbreakers last year?
As funny as it sounds, Arkansas’ defense–the worst in the SEC a year ago–held its own plenty of times in 2009, at times looking like it was “Learning to Fly”.
But, it’s Achilles heel was giving up the big play–a recurring theme that cost the Razorbacks a shot at signature wins against Florida, LSU and Georgia. With what should be one of the most explosive offenses in America, the Razorback defense doesn’t have to be great in 2010 for the UA to have a banner season. It just has to be better. If it is, the Hogs may be “Runnin Down a Dream” in 2010.
In the spring, Head Coach Bobby Petrino and staff will be looking for improvement from a number of players including senior cornerback Isaac Madison (he should get a year of eligibility back via a medical redshirt), who blew out his knee in preseason a year ago, and prior to the injury, was the team’s most skilled corner.
Madison is chomping at the bit to hit the field, but chances are that his exposure to contact will be minimal. Instead, look for sophomore Darius Winston to get a long look. He was a much ballyhooed H.S. All-American a year ago who struggled with the scheme and physical nature of SEC football. Coaches say he has improved, and should contribute in a major way this season.
In the (deep) middle, Anthony Leon also has something to prove in the spring after looking overmatched and/or lost last year. A physical freak with some major college cache a year ago (he started as a true freshman at Florida State before transferring), Leon was never able to get into game shape mentally or physically after his summer was spent in the classroom trying to earn his eligibility as opposed to spending it in filmroom or weightroom trying to get ready to take on SEC foes. To say he let plenty of opposing offensive foes out “Into the Great Wide Open” would be an understatement.
Thankfully, juniors Jerico Nelson and Tremain Thomas showed signs of being playmakers last year and are known commodities, to an extent. Likewise, seniors Rudell Crim, Ramon Broadway had their moments, and should be improved with a year of experience under their belts and some help, in term of depth, from their friends. Cornerback Andru Stewart also came on late last year and was a pleasant suprise at times. At others times, especially early in the season, he had Hog fans saying “Don’t Come Around Here No More”.
You might recall that Stewart victimized by a terrible no-call on an offensive pass interference at Florida (SEE ABOVE) that, but for an egregious personal foul on Malcolm Shepherd that also had Razorback Nation wailing ”Don’t Do Me Like That”, might have been the worst of what became a parade of miserable calls in Tebowville that day.
In a way, the no-call on Stewart was emblematic of the Hogs’ and specifically the Razorback secondary’s season in 2009. At times, it seemed that victory was within reach, but then, they would suffer a “Breakdown”. How well they progress this spring may determine whether they are “Freefallin’” in the autumn months, or will stand their ground, and “Won’t Back Down”.