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Offseason Review: Five Questions with Arkansas

Doc Harper of Arkansas Fight fills us in on spring football in Fayetteville.

Wesley Hitt

1. After a 3-win season, I would imagine enthusiasm is a bit hard to come by in Fayetteville. Still, spring football is a time for optimism. So what are Hog fans optimistic about?

I tell people to cling to the fact that Arkansas was in position to win three more games last season. The Hogs were in situations against Rutgers, Mississippi State, and LSU that you're supposed to win 90 percent of the time, but the Razorbacks blew it each time. They really weren't that far away from having a respectable record.

The other thing is that the players didn't quit. Everybody quit in 2012 but they didn't quit under Bielema. The players seem to be pretty upbeat about things. I'm intrigued to see how it all comes together this season.

That's hard for fans to keep in mind for the most part. I can't say there's too much excitement. The last two years have definitely taken a psychological toll on the fan base.

2. But, again, three wins. None in the SEC. What are Arkansas fans pessimistic about?

Most everything else. The talent level at quarterback. The difficulty of the schedule. Depth at every position other than running back. There's still skepticism about the defense even though they brought in almost a completely new defensive coaching staff and they looked better in spring.

When you're 0-8, you're not going to get any respect from anyone other than the homers until you prove something on the field. Arkansas is going to have to go and win a game or two they're not favored in this fall for the skepticism to go away. No gimmies.

3. Bret Bielema hasn't exactly endeared himself to many football fans in the last year or so. How's he being received among the faithful one year in?

It's mixed right now. There are some fans who will defend him no matter what he says. There are a lot of fans who wish he'd shut up. Some fans see the 0-8 record and think he won't amount to much here. Others blame the bulk of the current roster on Bobby Petrino's poor recruiting classes in 2010 and 2011, so they're more patient with Bielema. I don't want to say we're divided yet because that implies a lot of people want him fired, but there are a lot of varying opinions.

4. Back to football. With 16 total starters back, Arkansas has a lot of experience. How did that translate to spring practice?

There's a lot of experience, the question is talent. The defense in particular is where we'd like to see real growth and development. They showed some potential for that in the spring. We know they'll be better. The question is how much better.

One big note from the spring is that a couple of our backup quarterbacks have changed positions and really seemed to flourish. Senior walk-on AJ Derby was moved to tight end and he really played well. Redshirt freshman Damon Mitchell was moved to receiver, and may still be moved to safety. He was always more of an athlete than a quarterback, and played well in the couple of weeks he was at receiver. I think both of them will contribute well in the fall.

It also became clear by the end of spring practice that the coaches are leaving two spots open on the offensive line (center, left guard) in hopes that one or two of the newcomers will come in and claim them. Arkansas signed some really highly rated linemen this year - even though we lost one to juco - so everyone's hopeful they can come in and contribute quickly.

5. Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, we know the Razorbacks should be able to run the foobtall. How about that passing game?

Don't forget about Korliss Marshall. He's emerged as an equal to Williams and Collins, but with more speed. He returned a kickoff for a touchdown against LSU last year but it was called back for a penalty. He'll get a lot more playing time this fall.

The passing game is a huge question mark right now. Brandon Allen is the clear starter according to the coaches. He had a terrible first half in the spring game but was much better in the second half. Allen was pretty solid in the two scrimmages I saw prior to the spring game, so hopefully that first half was an aberration. If he struggles there will be a lot of pressure to put in redshirt freshman Austin Allen or true freshman Rafe Peavey at some point during the season, but we'll hope it doesn't come to that.

We certainly expect the receivers to be better. We have a couple of freshmen in Jared Cornelius and JoJo Robinson that we're excited about, plus the possible addition of Mitchell. Juco transfer Cody Hollister is one of those guys who isn't the fastest but he's really big and has great hands so he can do some damage. There's a couple other freshman who could also contribute but those are three players people are really excited to see.