State of the Hogs: Big Haul

Bobby Petrino

If you are a fan of defensive line play, this is the Arkansas class to make you smile. Assistant coaches Bobby Allen and Steve Caldwell get plenty of help.

Quarterbacks and defensive linemen. Those that have read this space the day after national letters of intent are faxed understand my thoughts on football recruiting.

Give me great trigger men and big uglies in the trenches, I'm a happy camper. I know what is sure to follow -- football victories.

Brandon Allen will like what he sees when he gets to campus this summer. His class is full of big, talented linemen, along with the usual complement of wide receivers in a Bobby Petrino class.

I've maintained for some time that as long as Arkansas has Petrino (and a quarterback coach like Garrick McGee), you'll see quarterbacks and wide receivers stacked high and trained to play at a high level in the passing game.

Now we see that Petrino is filling out his team with SEC-caliber linemen. Petrino mentioned the standouts in the offensive line in his newest class Wednesday when he met with the media. He said it was a huge need, pardon the pun.

And make no mistake about the SEC, it's king when it comes to defensive linemen. I point to Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, gone to the NFL early, as just as big a key to the national title as quarterback Cam Newton.

What did Ohio State have that Arkansas did not in the Sugar Bowl? You might start the conversation with defensive end/tackle Cameron Heyward.

Allen is exactly what the Hogs wanted at quarterback in this class. He's already won several statewide player of the year awards. He's the best quarterback for a pro-styled offense that I've seen in this state in a long time. (I didn't see Ryan Mallett in high school, so that's not to say who looked better during his prep days.)

This is a class that fills needs in several areas. There are standout cornerbacks and linebackers, but what excited me was the defensive line prospects. There was an old TV show (that I didn't watch) called Eight is Enough. That's just about right in my eyes.

"They're hard to find," Petrino said. "It got to a point, too, where we had to say we're full. The numbers say not to take anymore defensive linemen but then when you see a guy come in with great ability and he's the best guy, you've got to keep going and keep taking them.

"We're going to have to do a good job of understanding who plays and who redshirts. It's really up to the players because they have to come in and show that themselves, but we're going to have do a better job of redshirting some guys better than we did last year."

There are three high school offensive linemen from Northwest Arkansas -- Brey Cook, Marcus Danenhauer and Mitch Smothers -- who are going to get an early look. Petrino didn't promise a redshirt for any of those three, the typical path for first-year offensive lineman in college.

"There are a number of things that play into that," Petrino said. "First is how developed they are; how physical, how strong, their background in weightlifting, how they're coached and all three of them had great high school coaching. I think you'll see all three of them have an opportunity to come in and compete, and play right away. Brey has an advantage because he's here and he's around our players every day."

Bobby Allen isn't going to coach his son at quarterback, but the veteran UA defensive tackles coach is going to have plenty of fun with what the Hogs signed Wednesday. I'm not sure who was happiest at the signing press conference, Allen or defensive end coach Steve Caldwell.

Here's the list of defensive linemen:

Tackles-Robert Thomas, 6-2, 310.; DeMarcus Hodge, 6-1, 295; Austin Beck, 6-8, 295.

Ends-Darrell Kelly, Thomas, 6-3, 220; Grady Ollison, 6-4, 275, Trey Flowers, 6-4, 245; Horace Arkadie, 6-4, 242; Lonnie Gosha, 6-3, 270.

Beck could end up in the offensive line, but will start on defense. Some of those ends might develop into outside linebackers, but Caldwell loves speed on the edge. He earned a reputation for developing small, quick and fast ends during a long stint as Tennessee's defensive end coach. He loves a burst on the outside.

I can't remember Arkansas signing eight in the defensive line since the NCAA cut it down to 25 per class. And I sure can't remember five defensive ends. Caldwell was grinning from ear to ear Wednesday afternoon.

"We probably went over what we went after as far as number of ends," Caldwell said. "It was five and from five different states. I don't know if all of them will stay there, but the goal is to help your team with speed and that's what we did."

Recruiting coordinator Tim Horton admitted the Hogs exceeded the target on both ends and defensive linemen total, but added, "This is a league for defensive linemen and you can't turn them away. There were a couple that when they fell at the end, you just have to say yes. I don't remember a year like this in that respect."

Allen was tickled with three tackles. He said, "You remember Carlos Hall? Some of these guys are like him, same type build, same quick twitch. Hey, if they grow into 300-pounders, we could move them down and they will really be something. But I think all of those ends deserve to start out in Coach Caldwell's room."

Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson was beaming, but not just because of the defensive line prospects.

"I don't know if you see a team help itself in both fronts in the same class as well as we did very often," Robinson said. "Those offensive linemen are pretty good, too.

"We didn't set out to get so many defensive linemen, but they are so hard to find. When we started looking at it, you take everyone of them. They are that kind of players. They all brought something different and you couldn't pass on any of them. You are talking about speed, power and the ability to rush."

Robinson called fronts with four defensive ends at the same time in some schemes last year.

"We sure did," Caldwell said. "Four ends together at some points and three a lot of the time.

"So you want all of them. It always starts with stopping the run in football, but it gets down to whether or not you can rush the passer off the edge pretty soon after that. As far as playing a lot of ends, if they can make plays, we'll get in a defense to get them all on the field."

Petrino couldn't be happier.

"I feel like it is for our fourth recruiting class," he said. "Since I've been here, I feel like this is the most complete when you hit all the positions.

"What we were able to do on the offensive front, on the defensive front, we hit our quarterback need and we felt like we needed to get some young receivers because we're going to have three guys graduate next year, and we went out and did that.

"We got two corners we felt were very athletic and could cover, got some safeties that were big and athletic and can play the positions that are so important to football right now. I thought we did that. We have some linebackers who have a chance physically to come in and help us right away."

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