Arkansas loads up for SEC run at Alabama

Imagine the scene in the Arkansas huddle after the first few plays of the game. Four receivers, all skilled veterans with receiver egos, are begging for the ball. They all lean toward the quarterback and use the same line, perfected on the playground as kids.

“I’m open, I’m open, throw it to me.”

D.J. Williams, Arkansas' All-SEC tight end, chuckles on the other end of the phone line.

“No, no, Ryan Mallett is going to make the decisions,” Williams said.

It is a good thing Mallett, the 6-foot-7 quarterback, is an imposing presence in the huddle because Arkansas has four receivers with confidence as the Razorbacks prepare to take a shot at No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Western Division. They all want the ball, which is fine.

They'll all get it too. They just can’t have it all at once.

Williams, who is a 6-2, 251-pound tight end, has caught 93 passes the last two seasons. Greg Childs, a 6-3 217-pound junior, caught 48 passes for 894 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009.

Joe Adams, a 5-11, 190-pound junior, caught 29 passes for 568 yards, a whopping 19.6 yards per catch. Jarius Wright, a 5-10, 180-pound junior, caught 41 passes for 681 yards and five touchdowns.

What makes them special, Williams said, is they will not run a passing route in a pout if they know they are not the primary receiver. If the pattern calls for 10 yards down the field, they run 10 yards hard, even if the play is designed for the other side of the field.

“A lot of times in programs you see where they set up plays and have a primary receiver and usually, that receiver is running full speed and others are out there just sort of running their routes,” Williams said. “In our case, everybody is running full speed and turns around expecting the ball to be there.

“You never know. The ball might come to you.”

The Razorbacks are particularly effective against zone coverage because they can spread the field with receivers. Mallett, who was named first-team preseason All-SEC, threw for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2009.

Still, Arkansas was just 8-5 in 2009 for two glaring reasons. One was a defense that ranked last in the SEC.

The other reason was surprising because for all the weapons on offense, Arkansas had trouble converting third down. The Razorbacks were tied for last in the SEC with Mississippi State on third-down conversions (33.3 percent).

The Hogs' passing game thrived in most games last season, but failed miserably at Alabama. Mallett was 12 of 35 for just 160 yards and an interception in a 35-7 loss.

The Crimson Tide ran their usual blitzes, but ran them out of different alignments and Mallett was hurried. The two teams play each other Sept. 18 in Fayetteville.

The Alabama game provides some motivation, but the preseason snub for All-SEC clearly bothered Childs. It is easy to understand how Julio Jones of Alabama and A.J. Green of Georgia were picked first team wide receivers by the SEC coaches, but Childs did not even make second team.

"It's not really my place to say whether they were right or wrong, but I just feel that they just kind of underrated us," Childs told the Associated Press last week. "When I didn't make it, I had people all on Facebook, writing me, writing on my walls, calling me."

Williams was named All-SEC because of his receiving, but also because of his blocking. In 2008 as a sophomore, he had a phenomenal year with 61 receptions for 723 yards. In 2009 he had just 32 catches as Mallett spread the ball around more, but he became a more complete player.

“That was my key going into my junior year, working on run blocking,” Williams said. “After my sophomore year, I didn’t want to be known as a guy who would just go downfield and not put his hand in the dirt in the trenches with the big guys.

“It’s a good asset to have on a team. The defense doesn’t know if that tight end is going to run-block or go out.”

It is that one-for-all spirit that Williams insists has weaved its way through the program as the Razorbacks load up for a shot at Alabama.

“It’s a mindset of showing up to practice every day,” Williams said. “You hear people complaining about practice, but my mindset has improved a lot to where I am in the film room a lot, trying to understand why defenses do what they do. I’m getting in the recovery room, getting my legs back so I can play faster.

“Last year I would just show up when we were supposed to practice and didn’t have my mind right and just tried to get through it. It’s not just me, it’s the whole team.”