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Offensive line a weak spot, Hogs guard says
Mitch Petrus figures the offensive line is the only position that could hold Arkansas back this season.
"Right now, we're the weakest link," the Razorbacks guard said. "We're so loaded and so talented at every other position. If we handle our business, we're in good shape."
In its second season under coach Bobby Petrino, Arkansas welcomes transfer quarterback Ryan Mallett. The Razorbacks also have a 1,000-yard runner in Michael Smith and a promising group of receivers. The line appears the only question mark on offense. Last season the Hogs allowed 45 sacks, easily the most in the Southeastern Conference.
Now Arkansas must move on without center Jonathan Luigs, a fourth-round pick in this year's NFL draft.
Arkansas hopes Petrus' return can help offset Luigs' departure. Petrus redshirted last season after failing to maintain his eligibility while changing majors. The senior says he's now on track to graduate.
"The experience is something that will really help us," Petrino said. "He's the strongest guy on our team, probably. ... He did an excellent job in the year off in his class work, and he's in a position now where he's going to get his degree. So it actually ended up being a benefit to everybody - although a year ago at this time I didn't feel that way."
Petrus, who has also played fullback and tight end at Arkansas, has been through plenty of adjustments. When Houston Nutt was the Razorbacks' coach, Arkansas relied on a powerful running game, and the line was a big part of that. Under Petrino, the Razorbacks have tried to become more balanced.
"We have so many more pass protections than I'd ever known you can have," Petrus said.
Arkansas' uncertainty up front showed last season, and it didn't help that the Razorbacks were inexperienced in the backfield. Pass protection was a problem and there was plenty of blame to go around.
This year Arkansas has eight starters returning on offense, including tackles Ray Dominguez and DeMarcus Love, so there shouldn't be as many growing pains.
"We've got to make sure that all 11 of us on every single play know what the details of our position are so we can have execution," said offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, the coach's brother.
The center spot will be difficult to fill. Luigs was adept not only as a blocker but as the quarterback of the offensive line. It's the center's responsibility to make sure everyone is on the same page at the line of scrimmage once the defense shows its alignment.
Wade Grayson, who started all 12 games at guard last year, and Seth Oxner are candidates to replace Luigs.
"There'll be great competition there," Bobby Petrino said. "Grayson's very, very competitive, he's a good football player and they're both going to compete extremely hard for that spot."
Petrus said Oxner's teammates have been encouraging him to raise his voice more.
"Seth's a real quiet person," Petrus said. "When you get to the center position, you've got to be loud and real vocal with your calls."
Bobby Petrino said Oxner and Grayson have both proved they can play guard, but that choosing a No. 1 center was one of his most important tasks this preseason. He said the competition could last awhile.
"It's a long season," Petrino said. "You don't have to make the decision until Friday before the opener."