story by Chris Rushing
Follow me on Twitter: @rushicw
As the calendar makes its way from March to April, it’s time to take a monthly look at what’s happened with the University of Arkansas football program.
Late last week, it was announced that former wide receiver/special teams phenom Joe Adams has been named the inaugural Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers National College Football Return Specialist award winner. Adams had a stellar senior campaign that included an NCAA-leading four punt return touchdowns, helping the Little Rock native to average a Southeastern Conference-best 16.89 yards per return on the season.
“I would like to congratulate Joe Adams on being named the top return specialist in the nation by the Johnny Rodgers Foundation,” Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. “His returns provided momentum for our team and created amazing memories for Razorback fans for years to come.”
On March 28, the team announced the addition of Jessica Dorrell in the role of Student-Athlete Development Coordinator. Dorrell is a former All-SEC volleyball player for UA, and she will organize the recruiting process for the football team, including initial eligibility for each student-athlete, as well as plan and organize all official and unofficial recruiting visits for prospective UA football players.
“Jessica Dorrell will be a great addition to our football program,” Petrino said. “As a former student-athlete she has an enthusiasm for the Razorbacks and is familiar with what the University of Arkansas can offer.”
Dorrell previously served as an assistant director for women’s athletics at her alma mater and was the first female member of the fundraising staff at UA.
On March 14, the Hogs took to the practice fields for the first time this spring with several key battles highlighting the docket for the coaching staff in addition to providing chatter at your local water fountain in the office.
The biggest questions are whether receivers can step up to replace Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs as well as how the new coaching additions on the defensive side of the ball will help the Hogs to achieve balance across all three phases of the game.
Having Tyler Wilson back at signal caller will help out any and all receivers to fill those three huge voids, but Wilson will have to develop chemistry and timing with someone other than Cobi Hamilton as most secondary personnel will be keyed on the Texarkana, Ark., standout.
Things didn’t get off to a great start on the injury front, however, as senior linebacker Alonzo Highsmith was lost for the duration of spring camp on opening day with an injury to his left pec.
“I’m extremely disappointed for Alonzo,” Petrino said following the first workout of the spring. “He had an impressive first year for us and I know he had high expectations for himself this spring. Alonzo has demonstrated he is a leader on our team and the coaching staff expects him to continue to be a strong part of building our defense.”
Highsmith is expected to be back to full speed this summer.
On March 16, Jason Peacock was arrested on the charges of felony theft of property and suspended indefinitely by Petrino. Peacock started nine games a year ago and was penciled in as the starter considering he had the most playing experience of anyone up front for the 2012 Hogs. The offensive line was an issue last year as Wilson found himself in duress often, and the loss of Peacock could prove to be detrimental to a more consistent pocket protection for the rising senior QB.
“Obviously, it’s a tough loss. We can’t have that,” Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said of Peacock’s arrest and suspension. “We have got to continue to get better behind him. I think some guys will step up and get some opportunity. That’s well needed for those guys and I think it will help their maturity.
Running back Knile Davis spoke to the media at the end of last week of his desire to get back to being the physical presence that helped him cross the 1,100-yard barrier in 2010.
“I’m just ready to go get that first lick,” Davis said last week. “It’s football. I love contact. That’s what football is all about.”
Through the first two weeks of practice and a scrimmage, Davis has been held back from contact. The coaching staff wants to bring him back slowly and avoid risking any more time lost on the field in the fall when it matters.
“We will kind of play it by ear and see how he’s doing,” running back coach Tim Horton explained following the team’s first full-padded workout on March 27.
Without Davis or Peacock in the lineup, it doesn’t appear as though the offense missed a beat (much like the 2011 season) as the first-team unit scored seven touchdowns on 10 possessions when matched up with the first-team defensive counterparts in the initial spring scrimmage March 30. Dennis Johnson led all rushers that day with three scores and 80 yards on just 13 carries.
OTHER SPRING PRACTICE NOTES:
• Brandon Mitchell has lost his grasp on the No. 2 quarterback job thanks in part to his time spent as a member of the Arkansas basketball team. Redshirt freshman Brandon Allen has been released as Wilson’s backup on the first depth chart of the spring. The two are splitting reps with the second-team offense, and this will be one of the more highly-contested position battles throughout the offseason and fall camp.
• Matt Marshall has taken advantage of a new position coach in Taver Johnson as well as Highsmith’s injury by working his way into reps with the first string linebackers. As a senior, Marshall has spent most of his career solely working on special teams but has a great chance to prove his worth for playing time with the 1s.