This update was written by Doug Gillett, who's live on the scene of SEC Media Days.
For a guy who just led the Arkansas Razorbacks to their first Sugar Bowl in eons, only to lose arguably the greatest pure passer the program's ever seen, Bobby Petrino sounded remarkably confident about the 2011 season. Petrino started off by talking about the three things he thinks will be the biggest boost to his team this year: speed, particularly on the edges; a well-prepared mindset; and a lot of experience and depth.
Tellingly, Petrino basically admitted the guys who will be seniors this season "didn't play real well" as true freshmen three years ago, but he said they've grown up a lot. Between the players having grown up considerably and the defensive coaches sticking with the game plan even through the rough times, Petrino said he was optimistic that last year's improvement on defense would continue; this season, he said, "will be the first time we're physically where we need to be on the defensive front," with size in the middle and speed on the edges that "matches what we see every week in the conference."
On offense, the biggest question for the Razorbacks is naturally whether they can fill the shoes of Ryan Mallett at quarterback. Initially, Petrino talked as though he hadn't decided whether the guy tasked with that job would be Tyler Wilson (the backup, who made some amazing plays spelling an injured Mallett against Auburn and Ole Miss) or Brandon Mitchell, but as the afternoon progressed, Wilson's name was mentioned more and more by both Petrino and running back Knile Davis, also representing the Razorbacks in Birmingham.
"I don't think he's going to be another Ryan Mallett," said Davis, who added that he calls Wilson his "best friend."
"I think he's gonna be a Tyler Wilson, and he's gonna do great things for us."
Davis and Petrino both addressed the other big question for the Razorbacks' offense -- the loss of two three-year starters at offensive tackle. Petrino picked out true freshman Brey Cook as a player who's "big, physical, very well-coached in high school" and who has picked up the Arkansas scheme very quickly. Regarding the effect of the O-line shuffling on the Arkansas offense, Davis said, "I don't think it'll be that big a dropoff."
Naturally, another topic both Petrino and Davis were asked about was Ohio State vacating its Sugar Bowl win over the Hogs due to ineligible players. Davis' assessment ("We lost against their best. I don't think we should be credited with the win") was succinct, as was Petrino's: "We had every chance in the world to win that game." Petrino did, however, refer to last year's squad as "a 10-2 team," so it doesn't exactly sound like he's counting it as a loss, either.
* Today is Bobby Petrino's wedding anniversary. Congrats on 26 (I'm assuming) wonderful years, coach.
* Knile Davis was asked about players getting in NCAA hot water by selling their belongings, but said that he couldn't see that ever being an issue with him personally. "I wouldn't want to sell my ring. I wouldn't want to sell my jersey. I want those things. They're important to me."
* Davis says the hardest hitter on the Arkansas defense is defensive back Jerry Mitchell, while the toughest defense he went up against last season was Mississippi State's.
* Apparently when Ryan Mallett went on Jon Gruden's ESPN show earlier this year, he showed off some Arkansas hand signals, which Petrino wasn't real thrilled about. (He did say Mallett called him the next day to apologize.)
For more SEC, head to Team Speed Kills. For more on SEC Media Days, stay tuned to SBNation.com's streaming coverage, plus SB Nation Atlanta's as well. Here's the complete 2011 SEC Media Days TV schedule.