Arkansas won 30 games in the three seasons prior to this one and this team entered the season rated No. 10 in the AP Poll.
Arkansas freshman linebacker A.J. Turner is one of the bright spots for the future.
Obviously this team has felt short of those lofty expectations in preseason, but this isn't a story about that. The season was basically wrecked when former coach Bobby Petrino wrecked his motocycle on April 1. Various explanations of why the season hasn't been as good as projected have been offered and plenty of fingers have been pointed at John L. Smith and even Jeff Long, but as I said the tempo for this season was set on April 1.
The future will include a new football coach. With a new coach comes lofty expectations, fresh ideas and excitement among the fans. By all accounts, Long is going to be able to hire a very good coach. However, the new coach is going to have to take a long look at recruiting and the future needs of the program when he gets settled in here.
Here is a look at three positions the new coach needs to try and upgrade tremendously in coming years. These are three positions where Arkansas hasn't recruited as well as probaby they should have under Petrino.
Here's the three, in no particular order:
1] Safety: This isn't meant as a slight at the players Arkansas has there now. It's just that Arkansas hasn't recruited safeties like is needed to remain on top in the SEC. When Alabama came to Fayetteville a few week's ago it was amazing to look at the size of the Crimson Tide safeties compared to the ones at Arkansas. LSU will be the same way and, for that matter, many others in the SEC will also have larger safeties who can run and defend the pass, but also are big and physical enough to punish the running backs or receivers who they tackle. Arkansas fans have begged for a better defense for years, but until Arkansas is able to find and sign the larger, faster safeties the defense will always fall short of expectations. Arkansas was once known for signing safeties and putting them in the NFL. Steve Atwater, Kenoy Kennedy, Ken Hamlin and others were among the best in the nation when they played for the Razorbacks.
2] Linebackers: Arkansas took a step in this direction last year when they inked 4-star's A.J. Turner and Otha Peters. Both have played this season and both have done well for the most part. Peters drew praise for his play against Auburn when Alonzo Highsmith went down in the first half with a season-ending foot injury. However, past signing classes haven't produced two linebackers such as Peters and Turner. A red flag went up at linebacker when standout defensive end Tenarius Wright and fullback Kiero Small worked at linebacker. Wright was moved there in the spring only to be moved back to end recently though he is injured now. Small is out for the season, but prior to the season Small was doubling up at linebacker and getting extensive looks. Arkansas has to be able to sign linebackers who are more what the SEC teams they play against have. The Class of 2013 looks good at linebacker with Brooks Ellis and Marcus Robinson plus junior college transfer Myke Tavarres. Arkansas appears headed in the right direction at linebacker, but must continue to add and stockpile SEC-type linebackers.
3] Offensive Linemen: The line has continued to improve each week as the season progresses, but still needs to improve. In recent seasons with the exception of 2011, Arkansas hasn't signed a large number of offensive linemen. That has them now scrambling to fill those spots with junior college players. Arkansas is a prime example of how hit-and-miss junior college offensive line recruiting can be. Dating back as long as one can remember, Arkansas hasn't signed many offensive linemen from the junior colleges who went on to have a large impact on the line. Arkansas' best success through the years in that regard has been stockpiling high school recruits and letting them redshirt their first year and mixing in a junior college player here or there. Redshirting and keeping the numbers up is very important on the offensive line. The new coach has to make sure Arkansas keeps plenty of offensive linemen on scholarship and allows them time to develop before rushing them into action before they are ready. There's no way it was fair to Mitch Smothers last year to start the first four games at offensive tackle as a true freshman. He has since moved inside to guard and center.