Arkansas Razorbacks head coach John L. Smith has a lot on his plate this season, but has the Razorbacks primed for a shot at SEC and national stardom.
After an offseason full of drama, Arkansas football has had it's share of changes. Big changes this season include some old faces in new places that we're seeing this summer . Whether by injury, need, or scheme, players are finding themselves in different spots this year. This isn't uncommon in football, younger players such as redshirt freshmen Grady Ollison and Horace Arkadie are subject to a position change all the time. Ollison (6'5" 286) was recruited out of Malvern as a highly touted defensive tackle, but has gotten reps this fall at offensive tackle with the second group. Arkadie (6"4' 270) was a vaunted pass rushing defensive end out of Irving, Texas. He's practiced at end, tackle, and most recently, nose tackle this season. Though position moves like these are somewhat common, the transition of seasoned vets and impact starters is pretty rare. Yet, that's exactly what's happening on the Hill.
The earliest move came in the spring when middle linebacker Alonzo Highsmith went down with a torn pectoral muscle and defensive end Tenarius Wright was moved to linebacker. This made room for junior defensive end Chris Smith to claim the starting spot, and now he bookends the D-line with sophomore Trey Flowers. However, with Wright missing most of the preseason due to a concussion, bruising fullback Kiero Small has gotten several reps at the inside spot, as well as maintaining reps in the backfield. After rushing for a touchdown in Saturday's scrimmage, Small found himself in a white jersey on defense for the next 7 drives, 5 of which ended on defensive stops.
Another, more permanent move is the transfer of quarterback Brandon Mitchell to wideout. Mitchell has impressed in fall camp, leading all receivers in the Hog's first scrimmage with 9 receptions and a touchdown. The idea didn't come from any of the coaches, but from Tyler Wilson himself. The two were reportedly having a catch in the summer, and Mitchell's soft hands stood out to the All-SEC signal caller and he shared his idea with the staff. The back up quarterback's pure athleticism is too much to waste on the bench, and how many gimmicky packages do you need when Tyler Wilson is throwing the ball? With sophomore Marquel Wade gone, the receiving corps lacked depth, and with Mitchell, the group gets another body, and a big one at that. Mitchell tips the scales at an impressive 230 lbs and stands 6'4", a favorable matchup against any cornerback. I look out for him to emerge as one of the SEC's top receivers by year's end.
Though things change, they stay the same. Through all the drama and injuries this offseason, the Razorbacks have adjusted better than most could have predicted. The coaching staff that has ascended Arkansas into the national spotlight is still mostly intact, and the players haven't lost sight of the mission at hand. Wilson has stepped into a leadership role that, so far, he has handled very well and if that continues throughout the season, there's no reason this group can't accomplish said mission. Players have had time to adjust to their new roles, and are very aware of the opportunity that lies ahead of them. Despite all the adjustments and alterations to the program, fans could be in for quite a wild and exciting ride with an unpredictable destination. An SEC ring and National Title, perhaps? Now that's change we can beleive in.