SCOUTING REPORT In its search for balance last season Arkansas rallied around a team motto that conjured up images of potential disaster: Hold the rope, don't let anyone fall over the edge. Climbing higher than expected, the Razorbacks played in their first BCS bowl and finished with their best national ranking since 1988. Now on the edge of greatness, can they peak by winning their first SEC championship?It's an ascent they'll try to make without their trusty Sherpa, Ryan Mallett, who last fall quarterbacked the Hogs to just their second 10-win season in 21 years and led the only offense in the country that produced a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and five 600-yard receivers.That most balanced of attacks, which ranked second in the SEC behind Auburn's with 36.5 points per game, is back with players who accounted for all of its rushing yards, 84 percent of its receiving yards and 48 of 58 touchdowns. Now Arkansas will try to maintain its footing without Mallett, who left Fayetteville a year early for the NFL."I don't see any drop-off in production," says offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, paying junior QB Tyler Wilson the ultimate compliment even though the starting job is technically up for grabs. In a near upset of Auburn last October, Wilson stepped in for an injured Mallett and threw for 332 yards and four TDs. "In a lot of ways Tyler can deliver the ball better than Ryan," says McGee. "He doesn't have to have his feet set to make accurate passes." Wilson can also throw on the run, which should serve Arkansas well as it tries to plug three holes on an offensive line -- the most pressing concern going into 2011 -- that started the same quintet every game last season.The rest of the offense sparkles: Tailback Knile Davis, the SEC's second-leading rusher in 2010, is the headliner and is complemented by a deep receiving corps (Joe Adams, Greg Childs, Cobi Hamilton and Jarius Wright). Back on defense are the Razorbacks' top three tacklers: Jerry Franklin, Jerico Nelson and Tramain Thomas (the interceptions leader).With such a core in place Wilson just needs to get a grasp of that rope. "Tyler understands the responsibility of a quarterback," McGee says. "He understands the direction that we're headed."The Hogs can see the mountaintop. THE BIG IF Can an inexperienced offensive line jell in time to get new quarterback Wilson situated under center? TELLING NUMBER 275 -- Career tackles for senior LB Jerry Franklin, who's aiming to be the first to lead the Hogs four years in a row. KEY RETURNEES Jerry Franklin, LB, Sr. -- Franklin became just the second Razorback since 1960 to lead the team in tackles for three straight seasons when he made a career-high 100 (13 for loss) in 2010, including an SEC-high 20 in Arkansas's 38-31 double-OT win over Mississippi State.
Travis Swanson, C, So. -- The 6-5, 305-pound Swanson and his classmate Alvin Bailey, a guard, started all 13 games in 2010. Members of the SEC All-Freshman team, they are the only returning starters on the offensive line.
Tramain Thomas, S, Sr. -- He led Arkansas in 2010 with four interceptions and four forced fumbles. In the 24-17 victory over Texas A&M, Thomas had seven tackles, a fumble recovery and a final-play end zone interception.
Dennis Johnson, RB/KR, Jr. -- Johnson redshirted last year after suffering a season-ending bowel injury on Sept. 11. His return gives the Hogs a special teams weapon: In 2009 Johnson set the school record for single-season kick-return yardage (1,031), and he also owns the career mark (1,936).
Knile Davis, RB, Jr. -- Davis didn't become Arkansas' starter until October of 2010, yet he still finished the season with 1,322 yards. His 6.48-yard average was tops in the nation among backs with at least 200 touches. BREAKOUT PLAYER Greg Childs, WR, Sr. -- Already well established, Childs can have the season for which he was on track in 2010 -- if he remains healthy. Injured against Vanderbilt last season, he missed the final five games after having surgery on his right knee. Childs averaged 82.4 yards receiving and, even with the late-season absence, finished tied for the team lead with six TD receptions. TOP RECRUIT Brey Cook, OL, Fr. -- The massive (6-7, 317 pounds) Cook, out of Har-Ber High in Springdale, was the second-ranked prospect in Arkansas. (One scouting service ranked him the nation's No. 6 tackle.) He opted to stay at home and could find himself starting right away.
This team preview originally appeared in Sports Illustrated Presents' SEC Preview.
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