The name on the back of the jersey for the Arkansas Razorbacks’ starting quarterback is the same but the guy in the pocket is different going into the 2016 season. Brandon Allen completed his eligibility at the end of the 2015 season after having an All-SEC season but younger brother Austin has stepped up in his new role looking the part so far in spring practices.
The focus of Saturday’s practice was the passing game and Allen shined, completing 15-of-18 attempts for 213 yards with three touchdowns. Allen did a good job of spreading the ball around, hitting tight end Jeremy Sprinkle and wide receivers Keon Hatcher and Dominique Reed. Hatcher caught an 18-yard touchdown from Allen, connected with Reed for a 12-yard strike, while freshman tight end Will Gragg pulled down a 15-yard red zone toss for the third score.
In a post-scrimmage chat with the media, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema gave praise to Allen stating he is “playing well” and “(we) are excited about what he is doing.”
Behind Allen, Rafe Peavey and Ty Storey are battling it out for second-string quarterback. Peavey finished the day 5-of-12 for 112 yards with one touchdown and one interception working with the second-team offense. Storey took reps with both the first- and second-team offenses, going 6-for-10 for 95 yards and a score, which came on a 16- yard fade route with Reed on the receiving end.
The defense struggled much of the game against the first- and second-team offense. To the defense’s credit, linebacker Brooks Ellis and defensive end Deatrich Wise were limited in the scrimmage to keep healthy. Dre Greenlaw, now playing middle linebacker, and Kendrick Jackson were both lauded by Bielema for their strong play in Saturday’s scrimmage and throughout this spring. One positive was the front seven coming up with seven credited sacks through the 100-snap scrimmage.
One of the players picking up a sack was freshman early enrollee 5-star defensive end McTelvin Agim. Agim also was the focus of some negative attention, getting into a couple of scraps with the offense throwing a couple of punches during practice.
Defensive tackle Taiwan Johnson was limited in the scrimmage and defensive end Tevin Beanum did not play after being excused for personal reasons.
The offensive line has been a big concern during the spring, having to replace three starters in the trenches. Dan Skipper has continued to play at right tackle with Frank Ragnow moving from guard to starting center. True sophomore Zach Rogers has been impressive at right guard with Brian Wallace, who missed Saturday’s practice due to concussion symptoms, as his backup. Colton Jackson has taken over at left tackle replacing early NFL Draft entry Denver Kirkland.
The aforementioned Gragg had a great scrimmage, as the redshirt freshman tight recorded four receptions for 44 yards and a touchdown. Lead tight end Sprinkle finished with three catches for 57 yards.
One of the bigger changes on offense is seeing Damon Mitchell move from wide receiver to running back. Mitchell has added about five pounds to his frame, now checking in at 6-foot-2, 216 pounds. He was the second-leading rusher in the scrimmage, behind Kody Walker’s 14 carries for 79 yards with a score, as the converted back had 44 yards on 13 totes. Denzel Evans had 10 carries for 29 yards with a score and Juan Day carried four times for eight yards.
Another big addition to the 2016 Razorbacks has been in the secondary, but it’s on the coaching staff, not the roster. Former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads, per Bielema, is making an instant impact. Bielema called Rhoads a “huge asset” and “a good teacher.” Arkansas’ secondary had trouble stopping the opposition’s passing game in 2015. The Hogs’ focus under Rhoads has been more attention to detail with emphasis on attacking the ball in the air.
The Hogs will wrap up spring practices on April 23 with the Red-White Game. Instead of another 100-snap scrimmage, Bielema is preparing to do a half practice and half scrimmage of about 50 plays depending on the health of his roster.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.
(Austin Allen photo courtesy of www.arkansasrazorbacks.com)