Columnist

 

Scholarship numbers at UA below normal


LITTLE ROCK — Celebrated by some and challenged by others, the national unemployment rate due out Friday lends itself to spin from both Ds and Rs.

An accounting of Razorback recruits is incontrovertibly abysmal. There is no room for interpretation. Not even the staunchest Bobby Petrino supporter can extract something positive from the numbers.

Of the 85 football players signed by Arkansas in 2008, 2009, and 2010, only 32 are on the roster. Fourteen exhausted their eligibility.

Put another way, the Razorbacks are playing without 39 scholarship players, including 11 from the 2008 class that would have been third- or fourth-year players and 14 from the 2009 class who would have been second- or third-year players.

Tom Lemming, CBS recruiting analyst who addressed the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday, called the numbers very unusual during a telephone interview.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever known of that many at one time,” said Lemming, who has tracked recruiting for 34 years.

Usually, any extraordinary turnover in player personnel is precipitated by a coaching change, he said.

That is not the case at Arkansas.

Eleven of the players never made it to campus. Those who once were Razorbacks and now are gone exited Fayetteville for a myriad of reasons. Maybe they saw the handwriting on the wall, or they were encouraged to leave, or they were homesick, or whatever, but 11 transferred. Six others departed after at least one arrest, five others didn’t pan out and left the program, and a couple were injured and gave up football.

The numbers are helpful when it comes to explaining why at least three former walk-ons have started this year, why athletes who were high school stars at wide receiver and quarterback are playing in the secondary, and why others have changed positions. The beef ‘em up, move ‘em up approach can be successful, but I’m guessing that’s not the way Alabama and LSU go about building a defense.

From 2008-2010, 42 defensive players signed with Arkansas. Seven exhausted their eligibility, but only 18 others are still around. Of those, Eric Bennett, Byran Jones, Chris Smith, DeQuinta Jones, and Ross Rasner are considered starters.

The most extreme squeeze is at linebacker. Arkansas signed nine linebackers from 2008-11 and only Alonzo Highsmith became a consistent starter. With Highsmith sidelined for the season with an injury, the starting linebackers against Ole Miss were Terrell Williams, who had one start his first three years, and pure freshman A.J. Turner.

Long-gone players are not the only reason that Arkansas is 3-5 entering November, including 110-10 vs. Alabama and Texas A&M. A long string of injuries at positions where Arkansas was already hurting are part of the equation. So is the dismissal of Petrino.

The shortage of scholarship players will get the attention of the next head coach and should temper expectations for his first two years at least. Already, seven of the 32 players signed in 2011 are gone, including three dismissed after an arrest.

Pro-Petrino folks will ask why this wasn’t brought to light before the season began and they are right to a point. Mostly, nobody explored the numbers until Arkansas’ defense gave up gobs of points and the offensive line failed to protect Tyler Wilson or open holes. But, questions about the offensive line and most all of the defense have percolated since early in the year.

Particularly from the fans’ standpoint, pointing fingers at the coaches was the first option in September. It is still a convenient excuse.

Now at Arkansas State University, former Razorback offensive line coach J.B. Grimes recently offered an unsolicited take on the effect of losing a couple dozen quality players. “I was a great coach in 1989, not so good in 1990,” he said.

Same coach, same techniques, different players and 10-2 vs. 3-8.

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Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.