Friday, August 01, 2008

SPORTS>>Petrino waiting to rule on Mitchell’s fate

FAYETTEVILLE — On the same day he announced two-game suspensions for sophomore linebacker Freddy Burton and sophomore wide receiver Marques Wade, first-year Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino revealed he’ll wait until after his court date to determine any action regarding senior defensive tackle Ernest Mitchell.

Burton last month and Wade earlier this week were both charged with driving while intoxicated.

Petrino said both will be suspended for Arkansas’ first two games of the season, nonconference games Aug. 30 against Western Illinois in Fayetteville and Sept. 6 against Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock. Both will report with the Razorbacks Sunday and start preseason drills Monday.

On Tuesday, local media learned that on June 30 Mitchell was stopped by Arkansas State Police near Forrest City on grounds that his plate was improperly displayed.

It was then reported by Arkansas State Police that during the traffic stop, a small amount of what was believed to be marijuana and a small-caliber handgun and some drug paraphernalia were found in the vehicle.

Mitchell was cited on misdemeanor charges of improper display of a license tag, possession of a controlled substance and simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms before being released without an arrest.

His court date was scheduled for last Thursday in St. Francis County District Court.

At Tuesday’s annual Razorback football coaches/media golf event at Stonebridge in Fayetteville, Petrino said Mitchell immediately told him about the incident after it happened.

Petrino said through UA director of media relations Kevin Trainor, “At this point, the legal process will take its course and then we will deal with it.”

A senior returning starter from Newnan, Ga., Mitchell missed all of spring drills rehabbing from major knee surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in January.

He is still rehabbing the injury but was hoping to begin drills when the Razorbacks start preseason practice on Monday.

“I’m not exactly sure how that knee is coming along,” Petrino said. “He’s been doing some running, but he’s also had a couple of times where that knee swelled up on him.”

Senior Cord Gray of Wynne and sophomore Patrick Jones contested for a first-team tackle berth throughout the spring in Mitchell’s absence.

Arkansas junior linebacker Wendel Davis was charged with criminal mischief during the summer but Petrino also said he’s waiting to see how the court system plays out on his cases.

Davis’ matter appears to have extenuating circumstances.

The criminal mischief charge stems from him allegedly pummeling a car driven by Onyebuchi Odunukwe.

However Odunukwe, whose vehicle was alleged to have struck from behind a scooter that Davis was driving, was charged with aggravated assault and terroristic threatening.

“We need to let the judicial system play out,” Petrino said. “This is not the point in time to do anything with Wendel.”

Davis’ early preseason practice availability also is pending his rehab from offseason knee surgery.

A two-year letterman, Davis lastyear mostly backed up graduated middle linebacker Weston Dacus and started one game as an outside linebacker.

Regarding the suspensions of Burton and Wade — suspensions that Petrino says UA policy mandates be for a game — Petrino said he’s hoping it will make players think twice about drinking and driving.

“That’s something we can’t have and certainly something we don’t want to have,” Petrino said Tuesday. “It’s an unfortunate incident for both of them. The athletic policy is one game but I feel the situation we’re in, we’ve got to make sure our players understand we do things right off the field.”

Though a third-year sophomore who never lettered, Wade closed spring drills as a first-team wide receiver.

Burton closed spring drills as a second-team outside linebacker and was first team on special teams.

His 21 tackles on special teams led all special teams tacklers for the 2007 Razorbacks.

Burton had impressed the Petrino regime on special teams during spring drills. And the new coaches definitely need linebackers, with Freddie Fairchild, a starting outside linebacker last year, permanently dismissed from the squad for disciplinary reasons.

“Our linebackers are down (in numbers),” Petrino said Tuesday. “But this affects us even more special-teams wise.”

Though the numbers are thin at linebacker, Chip Gregory, recruited by the Houston Nutt regime as a linebacker, remains at running back, the position Petrino moved him to last spring.

“He’s been working at running back all summer long,” Petrino said. “I don’t anticipate moving him. We need to find out what he can do at running back.”