Despite the loss of three wide receivers to the NFL, Arkansas' offense and passing game is going to be a major strength in 2012.
The review of Tuesday's scrimmage film revealed the same thing as the statistics - quarterback Tyler Wilson is as good as ever, backup Brandon Allen has taken big strides since the spring and there are some new young playmakers at receiver to go with senior stud Cobi Hamilton.
Wilson finished 15 of 20 (75 percent) passing for 224 yards and 3 touchdowns on Tuesday. During team work at the end of practice Wednesday, Wilson went 7 of 8 passing for approximately 95 yards.
Allen was nearly as impressive, going 15 of 23 (65 percent) for 219 yards and 2 touchdowns. On Wednesday, the redshrit freshman was 7 of 10 for 80 yards, but the first pass he threw [20 yards downfield] was picked off by emerging redshirt freshman right safety Rohan Gaines.
"He's more confident," Wilson said of Allen. "He knows where to go with the football. His completion percentage is right there with mine right now. I think I trumped him today [grin], but I think overall we're pretty close, so he's made a lot of growth. I expect him to be a big-time player here in the future."
Hamilton continued his dominance from the spring with 5 grabs for 96 yards on Tuesday. During the 31-play non-tackle team session on Wednesday, he caught 3 passes for roughly 60 yards.
True freshman MeKale McKay is also making a name for himself. McKay finished with 4 catches for 63 yards and 2 touchdowns on Tuesday. Fellow true freshman Keon Hatcher has been steady all spring and made 3 receptions for 58 yards in the scrimmage Tuesday.
"[McKay is] a basketball player, so it kind of ties in. He's a heck of an athlete. I've been telling coach he's my favorite athlete out of all of them," Hamilton said. "Coaches do a great job of recruiting. They bring in guys that can really play this offense, really catch the football and really run."
"MeKale McKay was good to see," Petrino said. "Didn't really surprise me because I thought he was a great athlete, and that's something that I thought he'd be able to do, but to finally see him do it in a competitive, scrimmage situation was great to see."
The transition quarterback Brandon Mitchell has made to receiver has been nothing short of amazing. Tuesday, he hauled in 4 balls for 58 yards and 1 TD in his first real action at receiver. Mitchell has seen most of his action lined up in the slot.
"Brandon Mitchell made a bunch of big plays," Petrino said. "He's a big body. He's smart, he understands coverages, so he knows what holes to get into and how to attack the coverages. The touchdown that he got, a lot of receivers wouldn't have known to go where he went."
He has essentially been the second-most productive receiver since he started working there. Petrino said Mitchel will continue to do some individual stuff at quarterback, and he still goes to quarterback meetings, but as for now in any competitive situation he will be at receiver. They still need him to stay current at quarterback.
"I still remember being a little kid at one of my dad's games, and they had two quarterbacks and they both got hurt, and they had to run the single-wing at halftime from there on out," Petrino said. "He'll always keep coming to the meetings because you've got to make sure you have three guys ready to go who know what they're doing."
There is also every reason to believe with Wilson gone after the season that this time next year Mitchell will be competing for the starting job at quarterback. Petrino said at Louisville Michael Bush, a high school quarterback who ended up being a Heisman candidate at running back, worked at both spots his first year. That situation ended up good, but Bush eventually became a full-time running back.
"Michael Bush, our first year at Louisville, met with the quarterbacks, practiced with the quarterbacks, played running back on Saturday," Petrino said.
Small gets shot at linebacker
It is not as if the defense played that bad on Tuesday. Obviously there were struggles, but they were strong against the run. The defense was missing three starters to injury, and several players filling voids were scrimmaging for the very first time in a Razorback uniform. To boot, the quarterbacks were off limits (so they could drop back with peace of mind knowing they would never take a lick).
With injuries to the starting linebackers and Braylon Mitchell missing the first half of practice, it was a good opportunity to give fullback Kiero Small a look at linebacker. The coaches talked a lot about Small at linebacker prior to the spring, but Wednesday - seven days into camp - was the first day Small worked there. He spent the entire evening at linebacker working in a white jersey on the second team.
"Kiero, it'd be hard not to love that kid. He's tough, he gives you everything he can every play. He's smart, so for the team it's great. For the scrimmage, I'd rather have him on our side of the ball."
How much action Small actually sees at linebacker remains to be seen, but tailback Knile Davis performs well with another back lined up in front of him, and after Small the next best fullback on the roster is walk-on Morgan Linton.
Davis still on 'no tackle' list
As for Davis, he is still playing physically, but he has not been tackled to the ground since he broke an ankle a year ago and was lost for the season.
"He's still getting banged, they're just not taking him to the ground," Petrino said. "That's something that's an ongoing conversation, and as of right now he's not going to get [tackled] yet."
Odds & ends
Lavunce Askew, Alonzo Highsmith, Eric Bennett, Dennis Johnson and Brett Weir were absent from Wednesday's practice. Johnson was out due to a personal family issue. Braylon Mitchell was not spotted early, but he was out there.
CBS had a mic on Paul Petrino the whole time, when asked about it, he said "I forgot I had it on at times...hopefully there's a beep."
There was no comment on the capacity in which former Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt is helping the team.
The team did some live tackling, focused mainly on running plays, for approximately 20 plays with the defensive tackles replaced by players holding dummies.