LITTLE ROCK — Try to ignore quarterback No. 8 in Arkansas’ Red-White game this afternoon.
Tyler Wilson is a proven commodity and will complete two-thirds of the passes called by Paul Petrino. It is Wilson’s ability, plus the return of running back Knile Davis and the Fayetteville games against Alabama and LSU, that are one-two-three every time the Razorbacks are identified as a contender in the Western Division championship of the Southeastern Conference.
Baffling is the question marks that are routinely ignored. Confidently identify who is going to tackle people and who is going to block people — basic stuff, essential to winning in the SEC.
Begin at linebacker. Alonzo Highsmith, who started all 13 games for Arkansas last year, was supposed to spend the spring preparing to replace Jerry Franklin. Instead, he is sidelined with a torn left pectoral muscle. Optimists saw that as an opportunity for defensive end Tenarius Wright. He has the size (6-foot-2, 252) of a big-time linebacker and a high school background at the position, but who knows about instincts, pursuit angles, and other needed skills. Even if he demonstrates those abilities on Saturday, it will be against the second unit. Nothing against Kody Walker or Dylan Cruz or anybody else who carries the ball for the White team, but they do not measure up to the top running backs in the SEC.
We won’t know until next fall whether he can tackle Alabama’s next Trent Richardson — apparently his name is T.J. Yeldon — or LSU’s current brigade, including Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford, and Spencer Ware. Hilliard had 102 yards and Ford had 96 in the Tigers’ 41-17 victory last November.
The mere fact that Arkansas experimented with a fullback and another defensive end at middle linebacker is disconcerting and says that freshmen such as Otha Peters, who defected from Tennessee, will be given every opportunity in August.
When spring practice began, the other starting linebackers were listed as Matt Marshall and Braylon Mitchell. Marshall is a senior who has never played much and Mitchell is a sophomore who did not record any statistics in eight games last year.
Despite that lack of experience, fans assume they will get the job done. I wonder.
The situation is similar at cornerback where Darius Winston and Tevin Mitchel were starters on the depth chart. A senior, Winston has yet to live up to his five-star rating. Mitchel played in all 13 games as a freshman. Behind them are redshirt freshmen.
Watch the cornerbacks closely this afternoon and do not let one good play color your opinion. For sure, with Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell throwing for the White team, they should have an opportunity to cover and tackle.
Listing guard Alvin Bailey and tackle Chris Stringer on both rosters, the status of tackle Jason Peacock, and the fact that fifth-year senior Tyler Deacon is a starter for the first time raises questions about the offensive line.
Doubts even extend to the pieces of the puzzle that are taken for granted, particularly running back Davis and wide receiver. Sooner or later, Davis, the leading running back in the SEC in 2010, will get hit. More than likely, he will be fine with the contact. But, until it happens, there is a sliver of doubt. Cobi Hamilton can be counted on to catch passes and Marquel Wade and others are supposed to be talented, it’s simply the want to see them catch passes across the middle against Alabama and other SEC opposition.
Answers are months away.
For a couple of hours, the Red-White game is a chance to get away from the coaching foolishness and get into the football.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.