Arkansas is still receiving a good deal of praise in spite of Bobby Petrino's firing as head coach. At least one national analyst has projected Arkansas to win the national championship. Some draft experts have projected quarterback Tyler Wilson as the top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, also.
"I'm not going to get ahead of myself, but obviously that's pretty cool," Wilson said. "We've got to take care of stuff on the field in order for that to happen."
Wilson watched last week's NFL Draft as four quarterbacks were taken in the first round, including three in the first eight picks.
"I knew it was going to be quarterback heavy in the first round, especially analyzing my situation after the Cotton Bowl," Wilson said. "I was in the conversation discussing potential picks in the first round, so I knew there was going to be opportunities to take quarterbacks in the first round."
Four Hogs drafted
Wilson tuned in long enough to see Razorback defensive end Jake Bequette go in the third round to the New England Patriots and wide receivers Joe Adams (Carolina Panthers), Jarius Wright (Minnesota Vikings) and Greg Childs (Minnesota Vikings) all get taken in the fourth round.
"It went about like I thought. Obviously happy for our guys that had a chance to go. Jake got called early. Talked with him, he's extremely excited. And Joe and Jarius and Greg as well, excited for all of them," Wilson said.
UA linebacker Alonzo Highsmith and fullback Kiero Small were elated to see the former Razorbacks come off the board. Highsmith and Small both joined the team out of junior college prior to last season, so this was the first time they got to see a former teammate drafted into the NFL.
"At first, it was like 'man, I was just in the locker room with these guys," Small said. "Especially when we saw Jake come off, he was the first one to come off. Me and Alonzo were sitting there and we weren't expecting anything like that and then when they called his name we both just jumped up and cheered. It was a good feeling to see them go. Then we see those guys every day with the hard work they put in.
"When all of them went, it was the same reaction. We sat and tried to predict who they were going to take and stuff like that. Then it was good to see J-Wright and Greg go to the same place. They've been playing together their whole life."
Wright and Childs have been in school together since the third grade at Warren and will now get to play together professionally.
"I told those guys when I saw that happened, I said 'y'all just can't separate from each other, can you?' Been playing ball since grade school together," UA tight end and former Warren standout Chris Gragg said. "It's crazy those guys now get to play together professionally on the same team.
"It has been a little bit weird not having them at workouts, and it was a little weird not having them at spring practice. I know the little breaks we used to get on each other, if something happened, see who could do something the best, and just having those guys around just made you feel a little more comfortable. But I'm happy for those guys, we still keep in contact a lot."
With so much offensive talent leaving the UA at wide receiver, there has to be some concern regarding where this team will pick up the slack.
"I think every team's a little bit different," Wilson said. "We can use our team different that we used last year. Obviously, those guys we lost are tough to replace, but you've got Cobi, you've got Chris Gragg, you've got Marquel [Wade] - who I think is going to have an outstanding year - he's come a long ways. You've got Javontee Herndon and guys who have been a little overshadowed by those guys."
The Hogs will start with the rushing attack, which welcomes back 2010 first team All-SEC running back Knile Davis after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in fall camp prior to last season. Davis practiced but was not given the green light for live contact.
"Every now and then it gets fatigued, that's just something that happens with injuries, but it's getting better and better every week," Davis said. "I'm just expecting a good season from the whole team. I think we have a lot of talent, and I feel we can do something bit this year. That's pretty much my expectations.
"I don't want to get in that first game and haven't been hit. I'm pretty sure I will [be live]. They know what they're doing. I'm just doing what they tell me to do."
Reloading at receiver?
Marquel Wade was expected to have a good spring, but he was the most productive receiver during the practices and scrimmages. He is the closest thing to what Arkansas had in Wright and Adams the past four years and may end up being just as good.
"You look at Marquel, he made plays all over the field, especially the spring game when the lights were on him. It seemed like when the pressure was on him, even in the scrimmages, when he had a chance to make plays, he made them. That's exciting," Wilson said.
Wade expected to play well, but even he did not expect to have such a productive spring.
"I felt like I surprised myself, but I also felt like I was just feeling good out there, just going out there competing for the job with my team and doing what I've got to do to be good," Wade said. "It gave me a lot of inspiration. It just showed I've got to do what I've got to do to get where they're at, and also win a national championship for Arkansas."
One of the biggest concerns during fall camp was the injury to linebacker Alonzo Highsmith (torn pectoral). Highsmith was expected to be the leader in the middle and the guy who made all the calls, but that is something they needed to work on with him since last year veteran Jerry Franklin handled those responsibilities.
"In my opinion, I think me sitting out this spring, sitting back watching helped me because I got to see it from a coaches perspective. When you're playing, you see it but then you don't see it," Highsmith said. "I think my recovery process is going well. Right now, I'm going into my eighth week right now. Every week they've introduced something to me. I haven't had to slow down, I haven't had to take any days off for soreness or had to backtrack anything. Every day I go in there it's something new, something new. I feel like I'm coming along great."
When Highsmith went down, Arkansas auditioned several defensive ends as well as Small at linebacker to get another body there. In the end, the coaches settled on senior end Tenarius Wright. Wright is one of the team's leaders and came to Arkansas as a freshman linebacker before moving to end. He has always been a linebacker at heart, and UA defensive coordinator Paul Haynes indicated Wright would stay at linebacker for his senior season, even though this was somewhat of a 'test run.'
"From what I saw, I think Tank did a great job at middle linebacker," Highsmith said. "He's big. He's got the presence of a middle linebacker. It's not like it's new to him, he played that in high school, so it's like him going back to his natural position. The thing I like about Tank is I feel like we're both just alike because we're both going to come downhill, and we're both going to get after you. We're both going to try to make the tackle."
D-ends stepping up
In recent seasons, it seems every time Arkansas needs to shore up a position a defensive end gets moved. That happened last year with Colton Miles-Nash moving to tight end and freshman Grady Ollison moving to offensive tackle, and now it has happened with freshman Horace Arkadie moving inside to defensive tackle and Tenarius Wright moving to linebacker. It is no wonder Arkansas continues to recruit heavily at the defensive end position in each class. Suddenly the Hogs are without both returning starters at end, however. Sophomore Trey Flowers and junior Chris Smith both had good springs.
"I'd say I've probably put on 15 pounds," Flowers said. "I think I tried to improve on every aspect in the run and the pass, but during the spring I improved on my pass rush, my technique and playing flexible.
"I guess you could say I was kind of raw to the game, didn't have much technique, but I improved on my technique, my hand placement and things like that."
Arkansas now has a good rotation of four ends and is expected to draw some help from one of several talented freshmen ends who will arrive this summer.
Junior college transfer Austin Flynn's emergence at defensive end also made the Wright move more practical. Though Flynn is a defensive player, he seems to bond well with his counterparts on the offensive line.
"Travis Swanson, Luke Charpentier, Brey Cook, Austin Tate, all those guys. I love those guys, they're good guys. Most everyone, I hang out with everyone as much as I can," Flynn said. "I go with Swanson and them to Devil's Den. We go out there and hang out a lot."
One of Flynn's grandmothers is from Tennessee, so he is used to southern cuisine. Sweet tea and fried chicken appeal to him most now that he is an adopted southern offensive linemen who plays defense...Flynn did not allow the firing of his new head coach to affect how he feels about Arkansas.
"I'm going to be here for my two years, and I'm not going anywhere," Flynn said. "You've just got to adjust to it. Stuff's going to happen. We weren't expecting that, but you've just got to work off it, and we're going to stay as a team and get better. You've just got to work off it and get better."
One of the more intriguing stories of the spring has been the involvement of junior walk on offensive lineman David Hurd and former walk-on offensive lineman Tyler Deacon, now a senior, in the starting lineup. Deacon drew praise from a couple of players Wednesday for the spring he had.
"Actually we were roommates our freshman year," UA senior defensive tackle Alfred Davis said. "Deacon showed he can go out and block SEC defensive linemen and that he's not just a walk-on and that he earned the right to be a starter. He put a lot of work in, and he did a great job blocking me. I'm not going to lie, that's kind of hard."
Tyler Deacon's younger brother Adam Deacon joined the team last fall as a walk on, as well.
"It's awesome having Adam," Tyler Deacon said. "We live together now, and we're going to live together again next year. It's just a lot of fun getting to have him around. On the field, all the guys mess with him because they know me and they just have a good time messing around. I try to help him out on the field as much as I can, teaching him technique and trying to coach him up."
What makes their story even more remarkable is what they are dealing with at home. Two summers ago, their mother Leanne Deacon was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. It is a neuromuscular disease that hinders the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It is an awful disease that only gets worse. There is no known cause and no known cure.
"It's hard, but my mom comes to every home game and gets to watch us play. During the season we can't go home, but during the summer and free time I try to go home as much as I can and see her. They do try to come up here as much as they can, as well. My mom's probably the most important person in my life, and I just want to see her happy."
Prior to last season, Tyler Deacon was notified he was being put on scholarship.
"That was a joy. I was extremely happy that day. It was the first day of school this last fall. We had a team meeting like we always do that first day, and the coaches told me to go and meet with Coach Petrino right after. When I did, that's when he told me they were going to put me on scholarship. It was a great feeling because I felt like my hard work was being rewarded, and Coach recognized that I was a guy he could trust to put on the field and make a difference.
"The main thing is to stay in the playbook and know what I'm doing. That's a big key part of it. Coach K[lenakis] has moved me around so much because I know the offense so well, and I pretty much know all positions. Then in the weight room, I've got to keep up my strength and stay ahead of the other guys."
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