- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. (AP) - Bobby Petrino wore an Arkansas pullover from January’s Sugar Bowl on Monday _ just about the only reference to last season for the Razorbacks’ coach.

Arkansas will begin its 15 spring practices on Tuesday with the primary goal of finding a replacement for Ryan Mallett at quarterback. Junior Tyler Wilson and sophomore Brandon Mitchell are the leading candidates.

Petrino guided Arkansas to a 10-3 finish last season and the school’s first appearance in a BCS Bowl game, where it lost to Ohio State.

But this spring is about more than replacing Mallett. The Razorbacks also have question marks on the offensive line after graduating three starters.

“I think everybody understands on our team that this is a new football team,” Petrino said. “Last year gets us zero wins. It’s now all about finding out what our identity is, what we’re all about and that will be the fun part of spring ball.”

Mallett threw for 62 touchdowns and 7,493 yards during his two years as the Arkansas quarterback. While the numbers will be difficult to replace, the void in leadership created by the departure of Mallett and tight end D.J. Williams among others is what has the coaches the most concerned.

“We’ve got enough talent,” offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said. “We’ve got just as much talent as we’ve had. Our kids are faster and they’re stronger, but we’re lacking the leadership right now. We’re gonna have to replace the leaders.”

Wilson and Mitchell, along with freshman Jacoby Walker, were the three quarterbacks during spring practice last year when Mallett sat out while recovering from a foot injury.

Wilson, who was listed as the first team quarterback on Monday’s depth chart, practiced primarily with the first team last spring when he earned the job as Mallett’s backup.

That work paid off for Wilson and the Razorbacks when Mallett went down with a concussion in the first half against Auburn last season. Wilson responded by keeping Arkansas in the game until the fourth quarter, throwing for 332 yards and four touchdowns before a pair of late interceptions doomed the comeback attempt.

McGee said it’s important for all the quarterbacks to assert themselves as leaders as they battle for the starting position.

“The only way you win in football, your quarterback has to be the lead guy,” McGee said. “And I think we have some kids on campus that have the respect of our team. They just have to step forward and take charge.”

Whichever quarterback wins the starting job will enter the season with a rebuilt offensive line. Starting tackles Ray Dominguez and DeMarcus Love are among the three who are gone.

One possible replacement at tackle is freshman Brey Cook, who was listed with the first team. Cook graduated from nearby Springdale (Ark.) Har-Ber high school early and arrived on campus in January. So far, the coaches have liked what they’ve seen from the 6-foot-7, 317-pound lineman.

“It’s a unique situation for me,” Petrino said. “I’ve never had a guy that came in January and lined up with the 1s and go full steam ahead. Obviously, it’s going to be different for him on the field with the speed and competitiveness. It will be fun to see how he does with it.”

Story Continues →