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July 22, 2009

Bobby Petrino


THE MODERATOR: We are ready to begin with Arkansas Head Coach Bobby Petrino.
COACH PETRINO: It's good to be here with you today, That certainly means that football is right around the corner. I'm very excited and anxious to get started.
I really believe that we'll be a much better football team this year than we were a year ago. That started in our winter conditioning and our off-season program, continued through spring ball, and now with what the players are doing throughout the summer. We've worked extremely hard on having a good attitude and a tremendous work ethic. I feel like our team chemistry is where it needs to be to have a chance to be a special football team.
We are also going to be much bigger and stronger than we were a year ago. When we start practice, the competition and the depth will be something that will really help us become better each day in practice. With returning starters we have on both sides of the ball and in the special teams, the guys that we have coming in that want to compete, take their job, that will certainly help us be a better football team.
We have a tough schedule, there's no question about that. When you look at our schedule, it is going to be very tough. We did play 16 true freshmen last year. But with the schedule, that will really challenge our experience that we have coming back. It will challenge the depth that we have coming back. Then we're going to have to be a very, very well-conditioned football team. We have a unique schedule in the fact that we have a season opener, then we have our bye, then 11 straight games.
So what we do in our training camp, and what we do in our preparation leading up to our opening game, will be a little bit different than we have in the past. We're going to spend a little bit more time lifting weights. We're going to spend a little bit more time on our conditioning and making sure that we're ready for that 11-game stretch. We will have to rely on our strength and our conditioning and our depth to get through that. But I think it's something that our coaching staff and our players are looking forward to attacking.
We have a new football coach on our staff, John Smith, that I think will be a tremendous asset to us. John L.'s the kind of a guy that raised me in this profession, taught me a lot about coaching. When I had an opportunity to hire him back as our special teams coordinator, it didn't take long to figure out that would be the right thing to do. He's brought a lot of experience to our staff. His relationships that he's already developed with our players and our coaching staff will help us be much better. He's a very unique guy that has a big heart, lets everybody in. I know that he'll help me a lot as the head football coach.
We start a new series this year that I'm looking forward to in Dallas when we'll play in the new Dallas Cowboys stadium versus Texas A&M, where we get to play them 10 years in a row. This is certainly something I think will be great for our fans because they'll be able to kind of relive some of the rivalries from the Southwestern Conference. It will be great for our recruiting. It already has helped our recruiting in the state of Texas. I think it will give us a lot of recognition throughout the country.
Also we have a couple young players with us today that have done a very nice job, guys that I rely on for a tremendous amount of leadership. D.J. Williams, our starting tightend, that last year, as a sophomore, had a great year. I think he set a record at the University of Arkansas for most catches by a tightend. He's a young man that has overcome adversity at a very, very young age. He's very special to our football team. I like to see how you get to know him today.
Also we have Malcolm Sheppard with us, who is a starting defensive tackle for us. Malcolm is a great leader for our defensive front and our defensive squad. He's a very, very good football player. I anticipate him having a great year for us this coming season.
With that, I'll just open it up for questions.

Q. Can you talk about a lot of coaches have had a lot of success in their second years at different schools. Saban did it at Alabama. Can you talk about that for you.
COACH PETRINO: Well, I think what happens is when you come in, change is hard on everybody. When you have new philosophies, new ways that you work, new ways that you practice, it takes a while for players to adapt and adjust to that.
Our players have been in our system now for a year. They understand what the expectations are. Not only of the coaching staff, but they've now learned to expect that from themselves and from each other. You get your systems implemented. The first year you're going out there sometimes and there's still question and doubt on what you're doing, what the coach is asking you to do, and therefore you can't play as fast, as aggressive, as you normally do or would like to do.
The second year, you see a lot of improvement because the players understand what you expect, they know what they need to do, and they're comfortable with what you're doing.

Q. How much closer are you after one year to having the personnel that you need to have to run your system at Arkansas?
COACH PETRINO: Well, I think we're really getting there. We have two quarterbacks now that have been around in the system, one for a year, one for a year and a half. They're both very, very good students of the game. They come in and spend a lot of time watching video and understanding what we're asking them to do. Both of them have a good understanding of defenses, what defenses are trying to do. So we've really progressed in that area.
We'll have four true freshmen wide receivers we played a year ago returning with a year under their belt, and two seniors coming back there. You know, we did lose two seniors on the offensive line, but we have guys -- we'll have a lot of competition, guys that know what they're doing, a lot of competition.
I thought last year offensively we were good at times. We showed what the offense has the ability to do at times, but we weren't nearly as consistent as you need to be. We didn't move the ball on a consistent basis. We hurt ourselves sometimes in short-yardage situations and goal-line situations. I know we'll be much better there with the addition of some big runningbacks.

Q. Flipping that over to the defense, you were thin in numbers and in strength last year. Do you have reason to believe you'll be stronger there? The defensive backs coming in, particularly the junior college guys, any update on them? How will they fit into the rotations?
COACH PETRINO: You know, there was a game last year that, prior to the game, I was looking at our roster on defense, and we were starting five sophomores and four freshmen, which obviously made you very, very nervous. Didn't sleep very well that night.
But hopefully now that helps us. The experience that we have in all areas of the defense basically. Our starting four down linemen, if we were to play today, all started last year, played a bunch of football last year. All three linebackers, if we were to start today, the guys that we started, played a lot of football last year. I think Jerry Franklin played every play but six a year ago.
So there's no doubt that we will be better. We will be much more aggressive. I think our coaching staff has done a nice job of teaching the defense, cutting back a little bit, making sure that we really understand to get lined up quickly and play with aggressive behavior.
Then, you know, we have to do a better job really of handling the offense and putting pressure on the offense with our four down front, being able to stop the run without blitzing, being able to put pressure on the quarterback without blitzing.
A lot of times your secondary takes a lot of criticism when it's not all their fault, 'cause if the quarterback doesn't have pressure in his face, if you can't play zone coverage at times behind a four-man front, then it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the secondary. I think we'll be improved just to be able to do that.
In the secondary, the new guys coming in, you know, both junior college players I anticipate being there. They both completed their academics. One is on campus now and one should be on there very soon.
We've got four freshmen guys coming in in the second, two corners that are very talented, can compete. David Gordon is probably as fast as any player I've coached or seen. Both of those guys are coming in with the idea in mind that they're gonna compete and try to earn playing time. Then we have a couple young safeties that also should help us with our depth.

Q. As someone who has coached in the NFL, what is your perspective on Tim Tebow and his NFL prospects? What do you think of him as far as a pro career? Do you think he would merit a top-10 pick, first round pick, and why?
COACH PETRINO: Well, you know, my belief in quarterbacks is when you go out and recruit 'em or you're looking for a guy that you want to lead your team, you want to find a guy that is a great leader, is a great competitor, and is a proven winner. Tim has shown to do all those things.
I think he's a tremendous football player. I think he can make all the throws you need to make at the next level. He can throw the post, he can throw the deep comebacks, the go routes. There's no question in my mind that he'll be very successful in the NFL.

Q. Do you think he merits a top-10 pick?
COACH PETRINO: That's always hard to know. That's always hard to know. I don't even know who else is out there. I'm sure he'll be picked fairly high.

Q. Is it harder at all to find pocket quarterbacks?
COACH PETRINO: Well, what's been harder for us is to find a guy that's been taking the snap from underneath the center, not just the shotgun. That's something that is holding Tyler Wilson back a little bit right now. He was a very good high school football player, won a couple state championships, but since eighth grade, he took every snap no-huddle shotgun. Didn't even step in the huddle and call a play. Didn't get underneath the center and learn how to make a handoff.
It's taken him some time just to do those things, get the play from us, step in the huddle, call it with confidence, get everyone to break the huddle and believe in the play, be able to get underneath the center, get out from underneath the center with the ball in his hand, either take a three-step, five-step or seven-step drop.
I think one thing he struggled with a lot is the mesh points with the runningback. I've always believed the quarterback has to make the runningback better by getting him the ball exactly where he needs it. So his vision, his ability to cut back, you're helping make him a better player. That's something that is kind of a given out there in recruiting right now.
I'm really happy that the high schools are throwing the ball, that there's so much shotgun, there's so many indoor practice facilities now, so they're throwing year-round. I really love all the seven-on-seven passing tournaments they're having. I just wish that they would maybe put a rule in they have to have at least 25, 40% from underneath the center.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about if you anticipated the success Rich Brooks would have had at Kentucky and what changes you have observed in the Kentucky program since he got there.
COACH PETRINO: I think you need to take your hat off to what Rich did there. When he first came in there, I was at Louisville, Kentucky was on probation. He didn't have the full amount of scholarships that you needed. I think he's done a great job with consistency, consistency in his recruiting, with his coaching staff. I think some of that you have to take your hat off to their administration. They did a great job understanding he had a very good plan, knew what he was doing, and they stuck behind him and gave him everything that he needed to do to turn the program around. He's certainly done that.

Q. What can you do with Ryan Mallett, a quarterback that you say you couldn't do last year? What can you do with your offense now? Can you talk about what he's improved the most on this one year?
COACH PETRINO: The first thing we did with him was try to get him to lose as much weight as you did so he can move around and do more things. He did a nice job of that. When we got him, he was 265 pounds. He's just below 240 now. One thing Ryan can really do is throw the deep ball. If we can run the ball better and run the ball more consistently, it should open up our deep passing game and our ability to get the ball down the field, something I've always loved to do and really believe in doing, because then you don't have to call so many plays.
In him losing the weight, being more mobile, we're not gonna lose our movement game, our ability to run sprint-outs, run the bootleg game, be able to move the pocket. In this league, with the defensive ends we face, the speed and athleticism of the defensive fronts, it's important that you change the launch point, and you can set your quarterback at different spots, take some pressure off the offensive line, runningbacks at times.

Q. You were talking about how the players feel more comfortable. Do you feel a little more comfortable, your second year, know the league more?
COACH PETRINO: I feel a little more comfortable today than I did a year ago standing up here, I can tell you that (smiling).
But, yeah, to answer your question, I do. Whenever you make that transition, I think we've done a real nice job, our coaching staff, in the off-season of really getting to know our players, communicating with them, teaching 'em how to be leaders, then their understanding of what we want.
We're working hard at it. I think I've got a great staff, a staff that has a lot of good components to it, guys that really know how to recruit, went out there and competed hard in the recruiting, did a real nice job there, guys that understand what we need to do as a football team to give us a chance in this schedule that we play.
I think it's a two-way go, the staff and the players are much more comfortable in what we're doing.

Q. Could you run through how you got Ryan Mallett from the beginning. Also on the defensive end, there were a bunch of games last year where you fell behind early. What is it like watching those games from your standpoint?
COACH PETRINO: Well, to answer your first question, the way we got Ryan is we had just got there. Tim Horton, who is a member of our staff, was a member of the previous staff at the University of Arkansas, then recruiting the entire state of Arkansas, received a phone call. We got a release from Michigan that there was a quarterback by the name of Ryan Mallett that was interested in transferring.
Ryan was a young man that grew up in Texarkana, actually lived in Arkansas, played at Texas High School. I think the high school coach was smart enough to hire his dad so Ryan could go to school there.
Ryan had always had a want and a love to go to the University of Arkansas. He has a lot of relatives in the state. So when he decided to transfer from Michigan, he says that the first phone call he made was to us. He came down, took a visit, got a good understanding of what we wanted to do offensively, kind of knew what we did at Louisville when he was being recruited before, and made the decision to come and attend the university, which we're very, very happy about.
The second question, you know, I've kind of blacked those games out of my mind. When you have games that were tough, Alabama got after us, Texas got after us, they might have been ranked No. 1 at the time, we had a tough stretch there. We played Texas, Alabama, Florida three games in a row.
In the Texas game and the Florida game -- the Alabama game, excuse me, and the Florida game, we were competitive. We were competitive in the Alabama game in the first half. We were moving the ball well. We threw a couple big interceptions that allowed them to get a big lead. They kind of blew us out.
In the Florida game, it was 17-10 in the third quarter. We intercepted the ball, had a chance to go score, didn't get it done. Then they scored some points late in the game.
But you could see us growing as a football team. One thing, when you're not doing very well, you try to find little things that show success, little things you can celebrate to get you better and get more confidence. That's really what we did in those games. We kind of broke 'em down and showed the parts where we played well, we competed well, but we just weren't consistent enough.
I think that's what allowed us to get better as the year went on, get better in practice. I never felt at one time last season that we lost the team because they came to practice every week, they came to practice with a good attitude. We were playing so many young guys that they knew they had to come to practice and work to get better. We improved I thought every week last season.

Q. How important do you consider experience to be for a quarterback in the SEC? How difficult is to win in the SEC when you don't have an experienced quarterback?
COACH PETRINO: Well, I think it's very critical just to experience the speed. You go out there and you practice and you can throw the ball; but until you understand how fast those defensive rush men are going to be getting to you, how you can train yourself to keep your vision downfield when things are flashing in front of you and moving in front of you, you really don't have any idea what it's like.
That's a concern of mine. Tyler Wilson did play two games last year, so that -- in two games last year, so that will help him. Ryan played as a true freshman up at Michigan. That will certainly help him. They have to carry that experience and that knowledge and feel with them.
But without good quarterback play, it's tough to win a championship, there's no doubt about it.

Q. Did you vote for Tim Tebow first team quarterback?
COACH PETRINO: I'm not crazy (smiling). I probably did, yeah.

Q. You talked about letting Malcolm Sheppard lose this spring. How important is he to your defense?
COACH PETRINO: Malcolm is a very good football player. He's a guy that has tremendous quickness, has great anticipation as far as the snap count goes, and can really be disruptive to the offense with his penetration, his ability to rush the passer.
One thing that we did also is worked hard on him learning the game, trying to put some knowledge together with those instincts and quickness. I think he's really worked hard at that. He had a very good spring. He did a nice job of getting better each week in practice, not only in pass-rush, but in defending the run and defending his gap in the run.
I would anticipate he'll have a very good year.

Q. At what point did you feel your O-line got the system last year? How good do you think they can be this year?
COACH PETRINO: We still have a ways to go, with the consistency part of it. I think it took us a while to understand the techniques, more so in the passing game than in the running game. These guys had done a nice job of run blocking prior, something they did a lot of. So with the different protections that we asked them to do, different responsibilities. Again, they were a lot like the rest of our team: there were times they were out there thinking and hoping they were doing the right thing, not really understanding and knowing they were doing the right thing. So that slowed 'em down.
But we have a ways to go. We lost two very good players in the front. I think we'll have great competition. Our guys are much stronger, much more physical than they were a year ago just because of the amount of time they put in the weight room.
But we have to run the ball better. If we run the ball better, it helps everything.

Q. Also I notice in the media guide, there's a new guy, quarterback, No. 10. Where did this guy come from?
COACH PETRINO: That must be Nick, yeah. Nick wanted to come back and go to school at Arkansas, be part of our football team. He's got aspirations to be a football coach. I thought his mom would get that out of him, but she didn't. I think it will be great. It's real exciting he'll be around and be part of our team.

Q. You finished 5-7 last year, 2-6 in the conference. How hard is it to make the jump up to contend or improve your program in the toughest conference in the nation? What are some reasonable expectations for your team this year?
COACH PETRINO: It's gonna be hard. We play a good schedule. When you look back at last year's schedule, somebody told me that there were eight games that came down to the last play of the game. We won a couple of those that could have went the other way, could have ended up being losses. But we also lost a couple that could have possibly have been wins for us.
We will be better. We'll be a better football team. We'll play better football. We'll execute better in all three phases. How many wins that comes out to is yet to be seen. What we need to understand is we got to get the game in the fourth quarter in a position to win, then, hopefully, our off-season conditioning, our off-season strength work, and our depth will allow us to win more games than we did a year ago.
One of our goals is to win all our home games. We need to win all our home games. That gives you a chance to do something special. Right now, we feel like we have three different home fields. Play five games in Fayetteville, two in Little Rock, now one game a year in Dallas. Since Jerry Jones is a graduate of Arkansas, we're claiming that as a home game.

Q. Can you give an update on Brandon Barnett, Knile Davis, how they're coming along? Maybe Broderick Green, how do you plan to use those runningbacks when you have Michael Smith there with you?
COACH PETRINO: Knile Davis is doing very well. He's doing everything full speed. He's rejoined all the workouts. The strength staff tells me he's cutting, changing directions, doing everything he needs to do to have a chance to compete for playing time.
Brandon Barnett is a little bit behind that. He's, hopefully by next week, he'll start changing directions. I don't know if he'll be full speed when we open practice. I think he'll be limited. Hopefully we can bring him along and get him into the competition.
We have more depth and more competition at runningback. That will make us better. Michael carried the ball a few times last year in a game way too many times. We'll be able to give more carries to different guys, whether it be Knile Davis. We have a true freshman I like coming in, Ronnie Wingo, 215 pounds and fast. Then we have the two guys that helped out last year in De 'Anthony Curtis and Dennis Johnson. Hopefully Broderick Green. We have yet to get a decision on that. NCAA is taking their time. Hopefully we'll know something soon. I'm hoping for a positive outcome.

Q. I understand Ryan Mallett lost 25 or 30 pounds. Have you gotten your offensive and defensive lines to that level of strength and conditioning that takes to compete consistently in the SEC?
COACH PETRINO: The first part of it, in Ryan losing that amount of weight over a year and a half period, it wasn't something that happened right away. When he first came to us in January, he came in, he weighed 265 pounds. Our strength-and-conditioning staff made weekly goals for him. The other day I think he weighed in at 238. That's a great thing. It will really help him move and stay healthy.
We're getting closer on the offensive front and defensive front. They did a real nice job in the weight room. We've been able to add a few guys with size and speed through recruiting. We have a junior college lineman coming in by the name of Zhamal Thomas, went to LSU out of high school, transferred to a junior college, that's 350 pounds, great athlete, was very highly recruited coming out of high school. I would anticipate him to really get in there and make a run at it. I didn't see it, but I was told he actually did a back flip the other day out on the indoor field. I would like to see it. I'd like to see a 350-pound guy do that.
Most of our guys we needed to gain weight, gained weight. We are in the process of having a few guys lose weight, get down to where they need to be.
Our defensive front will be much bigger inside just with the addition of a kid we redshirted last year. Actually, if he would have came into us in shape, he probably would have played last year, but he was 20 pounds overweight when we got him. Very active. Has good hands. Will help us.
We're getting closer there. I think our players feel good about what they've done in the weight room. We're in the process of testing here in the next couple weeks. I know they're excited about that, just to see how much better they really are.

Q. How do you think your career might have been different if Michael Vick had not gone through his problems when you were the coach of the Falcons?
COACH PETRINO: You know, you don't think about those things. There's all the ifs, ands, and buts of the world. That's not one you think about. I understand Michael just got out. I wish him well. I think he gets the second chance he needs and does a great job.

Q. There's been questions about the spread offense. Talk about the installation of it for you at Arkansas, how the players received it.
COACH PETRINO: We're not really a spread offense team. We use some aspects of the spread offense. We feel like we're more of a multiple formation, power-run team, play-action pass team. We do use some of the different personnel groups that are aspects of the spread offense. We've had some years where that part has been the thing we've done best and executed that more than other parts of our offense.
What we do is, through spring ball, through the first part of the fall, we put our entire offense in three times. Then as a coaching staff, we try to sit down and say, Okay, what is it that the quarterback can execute? What is it that he does well? What is it he can't do? Then we mold the offense according to the quarterback.
We had one year where we played two quarterbacks. We played Stefan LeFors and Brian Brohm both. That was hard to defend because Stefan was a move-around, play-action, naked, sprint-out guy, and Brian Brohm was a drop-back passer. I felt that was probably one of the toughest things to defend when you could do both of those things.
THE MODERATOR: Coach. Thank you.
COACH PETRINO: Thank you very much.

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