Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 3/29/12
There are so many intriguing story lines emanating from Arkansas Razorback spring football practice this year, it’s hard to pick just one to concentrate on. But one that might get overlooked when it definitely shouldn’t is the quality of freshmen Bobby Petrino and his staff have stockpiled on the Razorback roster. In particular, the redshirt freshmen on the roster from what was arguably Petrino’s best Arkansas recruiting class.

The Razorback recruiting class of 2011 was ranked in the Top 25 nationally by most of the recruiting services and media outlets. The most immediately beneficial portion of that group came from the junior college ranks. LB Alonzo Highsmith, FB Kiero Small, and OT Jason Peacock all came from junior colleges and earned starting positions on the Razorbacks’ 11-2 Cotton Bowl championship team last fall. But the incoming freshmen class was just as impressive, including OT Brey Cook, the #6 OT recruit in the nation; WR Marquel Wade, #4 prep school prospect; QB Brandon Allen, the #31 QB; Tevin Mitchell, #13 CB; Mitch Smothers, #17 OG; Grady Ollison, #25 DT; Kelvin Fisher, #26 athlete; Kody Walker, #32 RB; DeMarcus Hodge, #32 DT; Quinta Funderburk, #35 WR; Austin Beck, #37 OT; Keante Minor, #41 WR; and Marcus Danenhauer, #45 OG.

Mitchell, Cook, Smothers, Wade and Minor, along with DE Trey Flowers, contributed last fall. The rest of the above-mentioned group and several other members of the highly touted 2011 recruiting class were redshirted. That means two things: 1) all of those players will be a year bigger and stronger and have a year in Petrino’s system when the 2012 season cranks up; and 2) Petrino had enough studs at virtually every position to have been able to redshirt 8 of his top 13 incoming freshman and still be able to win 11 games and a bowl championship. That is a sure sign that the Razorback program is maturing as a national power under Petrino. In fact, the Razorbacks redshirted 27 freshmen, counting non-scholarship players, and juco transfer OT Chris Stringer.

I was fortunate to have been a sports writer back in Danny Ford’s short-lived glory days at Clemson. One of the reasons he was so successful was that he redshirted a high percentage of incoming freshmen every season. That extra year will mean even more now that colleges have refined nutrition, weight training and conditioning to a very high level. For instance, Brett Weir was a relatively unheralded recruit from Ontario, Canada. He arrived on campus last summer at 6-5, 217 pounds. He was a quarterback and safety in high school and was recruited as an athlete. According to his information in the 2011 press guide, the Razorbacks were starting him off as a safety. In the past 6 months, Weir has gained about 35 pounds and is starting the spring working out with the TEs. His versatility may make it possible for the coaches to give him a try at WR, DE LB or even back at safety if he has the necessary speed and quickness.

Allen (6-3, 212) started the spring as the #2 QB behind All-SEC Tyler Wilson. Funderburk (6-4, 200) is in the mix at WR along with Kane Whitehurst (6-0, 175). Kody Walker (6-2, 240) proved last year before redshirting that he was a big, powerful RB who was especially effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Weir and Andrew Peterson (6-6, 262) are part of a large contingent listed on the spring depth chart at TE. On the line, Danenhauer (6-5, 300), Stringer (6-7, 304), Beck (6-7, 307) and Grady Ollison (6-5, 286) will all get a chance to earn playing time if they perform well this spring. Ollison came to the Razorbacks as a DT but was switched to OT to take advantage of his strength and athletic ability at a position that needed more depth when Peacock was suspended from the team indefinitely following his arrest this month.

Defensively, redshirt freshmen Fisher (5-11, 190), Davyon McKinney (6-3, 190) and Rohan Gaines (5-11, 190) are getting reps in the backfield. Fisher is a versatile athlete with excellent speed who also worked at RB last year and could contribute at WR. Darrell Kelly-Thomas (6-4, 230) is listed as third team DE, while DT DeMarcus Hodge (6-1, 301) and Horace Arkadie (6-4, 270) are listed at third team at the position that may have the most depth of any position on the team besides TE. Brock Haman (6-3, 230) is working at LB after redshirting in 2011.
No matter how much all those promising redshirt freshmen contribute in 2012—and you can be sure that some will play major roles—the best news is that they will pick up some valuable game experience and be ready for action for several years to come. That should ensure a very bright future for the Razorbacks.
 
 

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