Bobby Petrino found his quarterback in Taylen Green

Arkansas offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino (center) looks on as quarterback Taylen Green (10) prepares to take a shotgun snap, Saturday, March 30, 2024, during a spring practice at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. (Hank Layton/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — The offensive assistants on Bobby Petrino’s Missouri State football staff excitedly brought him highlight tape of a tall quarterback from Texas during the 2020-21 recruiting cycle.

Petrino was duly impressed with the arm strength, frame and skill set of Taylen Green, a 3-star prospect from Lewisville, Texas, who was rated the No. 21 dual-threat quarterback in the country by 247Sports.

“One of the things that was fun at Missouri State was I had a bunch of young guys on the staff, aggressive recruiters,” Petrino said after Tuesday’s ninth practice of spring drills for Arkansas. “They brought Taylen to me and they were all fired up. They had great talks with him. And I said, ‘We ain’t getting him. Sorry guys, we’re not getting him’ … just because of his ability, his size and speed and the way he can throw the ball.”

Petrino was right. Green signed with Boise State and made 22 starts in 28 games over the next three seasons before entering the portal after his redshirt sophomore season.

Meanwhile, three years after that recruiting cycle, Petrino re-joined the Arkansas staff as offensive coordinator for fifth-year Coach Sam Pittman, who gave him a directive.

“When I got here, Coach Pitt said, ‘Go get a quarterback. Do whatever you want to do,’ ” Petrino said.

The relationship with Green was re-kindled quickly.

“The whole process was really, really fast,” Green said. “I entered the transfer portal, [Petrino] texted me and we visited. We talked ball for about two hours. I already knew it. He knows way more than me. So I decided to take a visit.

“That was my first visit and it was actually my first official visit because of covid and everything. We were watching Louisville and Lamar Jackson and all that. His vision for me was what I really fell in love with.”

Petrino showed Green on the whiteboard specifically how the 6-6, 227-pounder could fit in his schemes.

“I had other visits planned, but after this visit I knew that I didn’t need to take any more visits,” Green said. “This is where I was going to be. I could see myself in the red and white. That’s what I fell in love with. The visit and Coach Pitt and everybody.”

Green has risen to the top of the quarterback position battle during spring practice, with redshirt junior Jacolby Criswell, redshirt freshman Malachi Singleton and true freshman KJ Jackson jockeying for second-team status.

“Taylen has kind of been the guy that works with the ones,” Petrino said. “He’s earned that himself from the minute he got here to how he’s conducted his business, how he leads, how he studies, how hard he goes, and all the mat drills that we did. He’s the first guy winning on the races. So he’s done a nice job on that.

“I think there’s a good competition for who’s going to be No. 2. I’m really not sure who that is right now. Malachi, Jacolby and KJ, the youngster, have all had their bright spots. And then made mistakes and had some spots that aren’t what we want.”

Petrino said he studied tape of Green at Boise State, talked to coaches like UNLV’s Barry Odom, who competed against Green, and then flew out to meet him.

“The thing I was most impressed with was when I was talking to him I could see him picturing the plays and the formations and everything in his mind and his ability to do that,” Petrino said.

“He’s a very highly motivated young man. He spends more time in that building [the Smith Football Center] than anybody.”

The quarterbacks are certainly aware of Petrino’s “offensive guru” reputation, particularly Criswell, who was ages 7 through 11 when Petrino was going 34-17 as the Arkansas head coach from 2008-2011 and leading the Hogs to their only Bowl Championship Series berth after the 2010 season.

“It’s like something growing up in Arkansas, you’ve seen his offense since you were young,” Criswell said. “You didn’t really know [how], but you knew it was explosive. Now, since I’m in it, his offense is probably one of the most explosive offenses I’ve been in.

“It’s not hard on the quarterback, but you have to know the details of the quarterback for his offense. With that being said, the quarterback has all the tools. He’s going to give you everything you need. You just go out there and perform, which as a quarterback, you love. You love having control over the whole offense.”

Added Singleton, “I love how he wants to be explosive in the run game as well as in the pass game. He just wants us to be smart football players. He gives us the keys to the offense.”

Green said being around Petrino has improved his football IQ, “knowing the ins and outs and knowing the whys. Why concepts work against what coverage.”

Petrino said he’s excited with the makeup of the team and the progress he’s seen through 60% of spring practices. He said the installation has slowed down so the Razorbacks can sharpen the concepts they’ve started on already.

However, he left Reynolds Razorback Stadium after Saturday’s scrimmage with an encouraging thought.

“When we came off the field … I said to Coach Pitt, ‘We’re going to be able to run the ball,’ ” Petrino said. “That was one of our goals going into the scrimmage on Saturday was to run the ball early, establish the run and be physical with it. We did a good job blocking up front, and [the defense] made it hard with the movements that they have, and that will pay off for us. Then we broke tackles and got yards after contact, which was great to see.”

Petrino gave an example of a critique he gave Green after Saturday’s scrimmage, when he felt the quarterback didn’t stick with fundamentals.

“He’s got to get set, he’s got to stay balanced and he’s got to get over the top on his release,” Petrino said. “Even the other day when he missed a couple — I call them layups — it was all technique. Dropped his hip, dropped his elbow, the ball flew.

“I tell you what, I tip my hat to him. He was working extremely hard at it today. It was really good to see. He’s got to study and watch a little bit more of Ryan [Mallett]. Taylen’s different than everybody else. The TikTok video guys that throw it sidearm and do all that … this dude’s 6-6 and all he’s got to do is get up over the top and he can complete anything.”