FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas is replacing several important starters on offense, including its quarterback, leading rusher, three offensive linemen and last season’s best tight end in college football.
The Razorback defense, meanwhile, returns lots of experience and depth.
There is plenty of reason to believe that quarterback Austin Allen and the Hogs offense could make drastic improvement by the middle and end of the 2016 season. But if they struggle early — especially in a rough Week 2 trip to TCU — that puts enormous pressure on the defense.
That’s something Arkansas defenders not only understand but embrace.
“We’re just going out and trying to help this team in whatever way we can,” senior cornerback Jared Collins said. “If the offense is struggling, we’re supposed to be there to support them.”
Allen won the Hogs’ quarterback battle during the spring, giving him time to get used to his new leadership role. That, and the fact that he’s been learning from the guy he’s replacing — his big brother Brandon — his entire life.
The starting five offensive linemen remains unclear, although that situation should begin to shake itself out over the next couple weeks. Senior right tackle Dan Skipper’s leadership in that group could help things progress quicker than some might expect.
At running back, the Hogs have lots of solid options between sixth-year senior Kody Walker, sophomore Rawleigh Williams III and true freshmen Devwah Whaley and T.J. Hammonds.
It wouldn’t be surprising if all of those guys play some kind of role on offense, although surely one will emerge as the No. 1 back.
Still, during those early games, Arkansas’ defense might have to carry a little extra weight.
“(We need) a fast start, like we didn’t do last year,” said senior defensive tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter. “The guys we have now, and the more depth and potential we have … I think we’ll be just fine.”