clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Talking Spring Football with Chris Bahn

As Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote, "In the Spring a young man's fancy turns to football and the promise of a really good season in SEC play and beyond." Or something like that.

At any rate, spring football practice begins tomorrow, and with it comes the first steps of a 2010 campaign that has the potential to be one of the most enjoyable in a long time. To help celebrate the occasion, we did a Q&A exchange with one of our favorite sportswriters - Chris Bahn of Arkansas Sports 360. You can read Chris' excellent answers to our questions below, and then head over to AS360 to see how we responded to his questions.

Many thanks to Chris for his time and insights.

1.  Every Razorback fan knows that the Hogs' biggest pain point last year was the defense. How are Bobby Petrino and Willy Robinson planning on addressing this, and in your expert opinion what should we expect from the D when it faces SEC competition next year?

Bobby Petrino told the Tulsa Razorback Club he expects the defense to rank in the "Top 20 nationally" this season. I’ve gone back and listened to the tape about 10 times just to make sure I heard that correctly. That’s a major jump in most statistical categories.

What I think Petrino and Robinson must be counting on is experience. The Razorbacks have nine guys back at first-team spots on the two-deep that have started multiple games on defense. By the time the spring gets here they’ll add some potential difference-makers from the recruiting class that could improve depth and competition. Losing Malcolm Sheppard will hurt more than people think, but most other positions should upgrade, helping make up for his graduation.

Honestly, I’m not sure we’ll learn about this defense until the season starts. These guys can look good in practice, but until we know they can stop giving up big plays, I'm not going to be impressed.

2. When the spring training depth chart was released, one thing that stood out was Ronnie Wingo as the #1 running back. What should we make of this in terms of expectations and his potential, and how do you think the other RBs will fit into the mix?

Word is Wingo has been impressive this offseason, including running a 4.37 at 227 pounds. Wingo closed the year strong and his 6.5 yards per carry were the best among the teams pool of running backs.

All that said; I don’t expect Wingo to carry 25 times a game or anything like that. Petrino’s style is to use multiple running backs to pound away or wear down defenses. Arkansas has the big bodies to do that, plus they all have speed. Dennis Johnson is as capable as anybody at the position, but Petrino hasn’t been happy with the way Johnson reacts and rehabs after injury. Broderick Green was a lot better than people gave him credit for last season, scoring a team-high 11 touchdowns. And I haven’t even mentioned Knile Davis, who is bench pressing 400 pounds and running a 4.37.

With the new offensive line coach and the experience returning on the line and in the backfield, I think tailback is strength for the team. We’ll see signs of that this spring, I think.

3. Which little-used (or redshirted) freshmen from last year are most poised to make more significant contributions in their sophomore seasons? (Darius Winston, we're looking at you.)

Coaches have been pleased with Winston since bowl practices began in December. He’s a guy that seems poised for increased playing time thanks to better strength, 4.38 speed and better knowledge of the demands of college football under Petrino. Colton Nash is probably worth keeping an eye on at defensive end. He had to go to tight end as a freshman because of depth issues, but is back in his natural position and has the length and athleticism to be an impact guy on the defensive line.

Offensively, Alvin Bailey is the guy most likely to break out. He was good enough to play last year, but redshirted behind Mitch Petrus, who could wind up a first-day NFL Draft pick.

4. Which of the offseason changes to the assistant coaching lineup (including Garrick McGee's promotion) will have the biggest impact, and why?

I’m most intrigued by new offensive line coach Chris Klenakis. He came to Arkansas from Nevada where they were among the nation’s best at running the football. Most impressively, Klenakis was one of the primary architects of the ‘Pistol’ offense. Arkansas mixed in some of what it calls ‘Shot’ last season. Passing out of the formation was good to the Razorbacks, but they want the running game to improve and think this formation will help there. 

5. Razorback fans aren't known for their realistic expectations, but impartial outside observers also seem to be predicting good things for the Hogs in 2010. Obviously a lot can change between now and September, but on a scale of 1-10 how excited should we be?

I’m going to say ‘10’ as in 10 victories. That’s my way too early regular season prediction for 2010. Barring significant injuries or complications with Ryan Mallett’s broken foot, this team has the talent to win big thanks to a favorable schedule. I realize this has the potential to be completely ridiculous. We can edit this section when nobody is looking if this winds up being too far off the mark, right? (I kid.)