FAYETTEVILLE — How much difference in a season can one football player make?
We all have watched enough to know that one player can be THE DIFFERENCE in a team being great or good or good or mediocre. Generally, we think of those guys being quarterbacks or running backs or maybe even a great pass rusher. But depending on a team’s depth, even a routine starter can be a difference-maker.
The point never stood out more last season for the Arkansas Razorbacks than in their game against Georgia. For a quarter and a little bit more, it appeared the Razorbacks would run the Bulldogs out of Razorback Stadium. Ryan Mallett was putting the ball on the money down field and Arkansas’ receiving corps was making plays Hogs fans hadn’t seen in years, if ever.
Arkansas’ defense was holding up pretty good, too, until linebacker Jerry Franklin brushed an official and was tossed from the game. Franklin’s backup came into the game ill prepared, and Georgia coach Mark Richt was sharp enough to take advantage of the weakness the rest of the night. What had been shaping up to be a Razorback victor swiftly turned around and the Bulldogs went home 52-41 winners.
The loss of Franklin was the turning point in that ballgame, and it’s one of the reasons the Hogs’ coaching staff has not taken the routine scuffles that develop during spring practice as well as other needless penalty situations lightly this spring.
While Petrino doesn’t want to offer any gifts to opponents this year, the Razorbacks should be better outfitted across the board to play in the SEC. Other than last week when Brandon Mitchell’s absence due to a death in his family left the Hogs a little short at quarterback, Arkansas routinely worked three offenses against three defenses this spring.
That has been a true luxury for Petrino and his staff and has made spring practice much more beneficial. Working three full teams has actually made practices more efficient and players more attentive. That may sound counter intuitive but it is true.
With three full teams, players are able to get more rest between repetitions, but also allowed the coaches to work the teams at a quicker pace. The end result is that the players stay more attentive thus getting more out of each play, but because the pace is quicker because the players are able to go harder for longer, each player is getting as much work as they had in previous years when the pace was not as quick.
This depth has allowed each Razorback to maximize his spring workouts and the improvement has shown both for individuals and the team. There is no way to count the benefit that depth will have on the Hogs next fall, but it will be considerable.
Speaking of depth, it was good to see Isaac Madison working virtually full speed with the second team in Tuesday’s practice. Madison is coming off surgery to repair his ACL and he has progressed enough that he could see some contact this week and even play a bit in Saturday’s Red-White game.
If you remember, Madison started his entire sophomore season in 2008 and while he had his ups and downs, he was the Hogs best defensive back in camp last spring. Until his injury sidelined him for the season, Madison was having an excellent preseason camp and was poised to have a stand-out junior year.
Like when Franklin went out of the Georgia game, the Hogs did not have a true answer for the void left in the secondary by Madison’s injury. That kind of experience can only be replaced over the course of a full season.
However, this spring cornerback is not the worrisome position for the Hogs that it has been in the past. In fact, Darius Winston has improved enough over the spring that Robinson felt comfortable trying starting corner Rudell Crim at safety the last week of spring ball to add more speed at the position. Who knows if Crim will stay at safety or move back to corner, but with Madison back and the experience gained last season, Arkansas’ secondary shouldn’t be the weakness that it has been five of the last six seasons.