Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 4/18/12

Although last Saturday was maybe the busiest weekend of the year in terms of spring football, there are still a handful of teams who continue practicing, and have yet to host their spring games.

One of those teams is Arkansas, which have made a lot of headlines this spring… but unfortunately, not many of them were football related. Bobby Petrino is the coach of the past, Taver Johnson is the interim for the present, and no one is quite sure exactly what to expect for the future.

But in the intermediary football has gone on, and on Saturday Arkansas will wrap up spring ball with their annual Red-White game Saturday at 2 p.m.

Here are five things Crystal Ball Run will be looking out for when the Hogs take the field:

 

1. How have the new wide receivers developed?

 

 

For all the talk about Tyler Wilson’s return to Fayetteville this off-season, one thing that has been overlooked is all that Wilson and the Razorbacks lost at wide receiver. Not only did the Hogs lose their top three pass-catchers from the 2011 team, but also three of the best receivers in program history, with Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs taking their talents to the professional ranks. They’ll bring a combined 141 catches in 2011 with them.

Yet incredibly, the Arkansas’s passing game hasn’t seemed to miss a beat this spring

That’s because, to their credit, the next group of wide receivers appears to be ready to step into the shoes of those who are gone. We already knew about Cobi Hamilton (who finished last year with 34 catches), but he’s been limited to injuries this spring, and what’s been impressive is how everyone else around him has stepped up. In last Saturday’s scrimmage Marquel Wade had the day of his life with nine catches and 98 yards and Javontee Herndon- who had just eight catches all of last year- had five catches himself. Tight end Chris Gragg did his usual Chris Gragg thing, with eight catches for 83 yards.

This unit is further along than we expected, and it’ll be fun to see that development come to life on Saturday afternoon.

2. How about Knile Davis?

We all know that the passing game will always take center stage in Fayetteville, but a lot of folks seem to forget is that when Arkansas was at their best in 2010, it was because of the emergence of Knile Davis at running back. The sophomore finished his season with over 1,300 yards, before losing all of 2011 to injury.

Well, now Davis is back, but the question is, how healthy is the ankle that cost him last season? Davis has been limited all spring long, and not taken part in any of Arkansas’ three scrimmages to date. As for Saturday in particular, it’s uncertain if he’ll even suit up, and if he does, expect him to take just a carry or two before making way to Ronnie Wingo and Dennis Johnson.

Still, whether he’s an All-American candidate in 2012 or simply a back-up, it’s great to see Knile Davis back on the field in full pads.

3. Has Arkansas developed depth on defense?

While defense seemed to be a bit optional in Petrino’s first few years in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks have actually been sneaky good on that side of the ball the last two years. The numbers don’t entirely show it, but given how quickly, and how often Arkansas’ offense scores, things could be much worse.

But as good as things were in 2011, they'll get much trickier in 2012. Stalwarts Jake Bequette, Jerry Franklin, Jericho Nelson and Tremain Thomas are gone, and key stars like Alonzo Highsmith have been sidelined by injuries. Which raises the question: Can the new guys hold up?

It won’t be easy, especially since this defense wasn’t all that deep to begin with. Arkansas simply can’t and doesn’t recruit at the level that an Alabama or LSU are capable of, meaning that it’s harder to find replacements when a big name player graduates or loses time to injury. Sure this group still has big-time players like Tenarius Wright (who has moved to linebacker) and Darius Winston, but now the question becomes can the next wave of guys fill in behind them?

It’s a tough question, and one with no easy answers. But if the Hogs want to finally get over the hump and get past Alabama or LSU this season, they’ll need to start finding answers right away.

4. How about the offensive line?

The same questions about the defense have to be addressed with the offensive line as well: Have things improved, and has depth been formed? If not, it could be another long year for Arkansas, and quarterback Tyler Wilson in specific.

And the truth is, that for anyone who watched the Hogs last year, you know that of every quarterback in college football, nobody took more huge shots than Wilson did. Heck, the poor guy got hit hard so many times it’s a surprise that he didn’t need a few organs replaced by the end of the year. To his credit Wilson kept getting up, but this isn’t really about Wilson as much as the guys protecting him. They simply need to be better than they were or Arkansas won’t possibly match their 11 wins from 2011. Jason Peacock returns at left tackle (after, ahem, getting arrested this spring), but besides him, there are no real certainties, or stars, anywhere else.

Although much of the concern with Arkansas is on the defensive side of the ball, it’s the offensive line which might most need to be addressed entering the summer and into the fall.

5. Finally, how is this team’s psyche?

Look, we can sit here and look at the depth chart all day, break down the good, bad and uncertain. That’ll all get figured out eventually.

What won’t necessarily is how this team handles adversity going forward. There is no blueprint on how to handle a situation like this, and no easy way to replace a guy like Petrino, who might’ve been a crummy person, but was a darn good football coach. For all the bad that guy brought to the table, his football psyche was engrained in this team, and it’s impossible to know how the Hogs might react without him.

Can the Razorbacks move forward? More importantly, can they reach their immense potential and compete for a National Championship in 2012?

We’ll start getting answers soon enough.

For all his opinion, insight and articles, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

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