Razorbacks ready to be SEC's top catch
Arkansas junior Ryan Mallett has every tool a quarterback could ask for:
The height (6-foot-7) that provides vision downfield is a gift of nature.
The arm that can carve a pebble-grained tattoo at 20 paces is a gift of nature, finely honed.
And the cast of receivers that makes Mallett and the Razorbacks' offense so effective is a gift of recruiting. Coach Bobby Petrino's offense has attracted a corps of wideouts that is the envy of the rest of the Southeastern Conference.
In a sport in which two receivers averaging more than 16 yards per catch is a luxury, all four of the Razorbacks' wideouts gained between 16.6 and 19.6 yards per catch.
"Really," Mallett said, a huge grin creasing his face, "if we're on our game, we should put a lot of points up."
The receivers call themselves the Dog Pound, a name they adopted during bowl practice this past December to counter the woofing of their teammates in the secondary. Williams -- "I'm the mutt, because I'm mixed. Tight end is a mix between lineman and receiver." -- said the offense has come a long way in its third season of learning Petrino's spread system.
Really, if we're on our game, we should put a lot of points up.” -- Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett
"When we were first coming into the offense, everything kind of looked like Chinese," Williams said. "When you're in the film room and they're trying to explain it to you, you're like, 'What is going on?'
"Now that I'm here in my senior year, I'm talking to some incoming freshmen, and they're looking at me the same way I looked at my coaches when they first started talking to me. It takes time, but I think once you get it down, it's a very dangerous offense to try to defend and a very beneficial one to have."
The 6-2, 251-pound Williams made second-team All-SEC last season even as he caught only 32 catches, barely half of the 61 he caught in 2008.
"D.J. is always a target we want to get the ball to," Mallett said. "Last year, they happened to really focus in on him and double him a lot. People were like, 'Why didn't we throw it to D.J.?' They were putting two or three people on him and leaving our other guys open. But D.J. had a great year last year. He improved on his run blocking and really helped us out."
Adams, like Williams, does his best work inside. There, the likeness ends. The 5-11, 190-pounder caught 29 passes for 568 yards and seven touchdowns even as he missed three games at midseason after suffering a mild stroke.
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"Joe Adams is probably the most incredible moving side to side that I've ever seen," Williams said. "It looks like you're watching a Reggie Bush highlight film, a step faster. And he's a tough kid, everybody knows that, coming back from a stroke and taking those big hits against LSU and catching that last touchdown at the end."
Adams took a helmet-to-helmet hit from LSU safety Chad Jones late in the fourth quarter. A few plays later, Adams caught the 14-yard touchdown pass that put the Hogs ahead 30-27 with 1:18 to play. They lost 33-30 in overtime.
The 6-3, 217-pound Childs, who led the team in 2009 with 48 catches for 894 yards, "is a man among boys," Williams said. "He looks like somebody got the chisels out." Childs' classmate at Warren (Ark.) High, Wright, also presents a deep threat. And Hamilton, the youngest of the five, still hasn't mastered Chinese.
"He's goofy," Williams said. "I would say he needs to grow up a little bit more, be a little more serious. But don't take all the fun he has of playing football out of it. He brings that flavor into the huddle that everybody needs."
There was a game last season -- Williams didn't recall the opponent.
"I can remember lining up; I'm split out wide as a receiver. Cobi's over there. I'm looking at him, and he's just dazed out.
"I said, 'Cobi!'
"'What's up, man?'
"'What have you got on this?'
"'I have no idea. Probably going to run a fade.'"
It's funny now.
"That was Cobi," Williams said. "If all else goes wrong, just run a fade."
Arkansas has so much talent at wide receiver. Yet none of them made first- or second-team preseason All-SEC. Petrino, speaking at SEC media days last month, said that the receivers "will take it personal."
Another assessment of his illustrates how good the Arkansas offense is. With a perfectly straight face, Petrino said, "One of the things that we really need to understand is who is going to be our backup wide receivers."
If that's near the top of a coach's offensive concerns, get ready to see the scoreboard light up.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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