Arkansas enters a crucial spring under second-year head coach Bret Bielema. Losers of nine straight, including eight straight SEC games, Bielema’s team is facing another brutal schedule in 2014.
A big key to success will be finding more quality quarterback play.
Returning starter Brandon Allen had a rough year in 2013. Between a shoulder and leg injury, Allen says he finally feels healthy and 100 percent.
“Now it’s nice to be able to go out and sling it around like I did before. Just the fact I’m feeling better helps my game a lot,” Allen told Whole Hog Sports.
Allen suffered a shoulder injury early in the year that caused him to miss the road game against Rutgers, and he was continuously knocked around, which added to the struggle. He finished with 1,552 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and 10 INTs, and he completed less than 50 percent of his passes. Allen is the projected starter, but he isn’t the surefire winner, yet.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney likes the elder Allen’s attitude approaching a clean slate and a new season.
“From a personal standpoint when you’re in charge and it doesn’t go well, you take a lot of ownership and your pride is hurt,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney told Whole Hog Sports. “We’ve tried to do everything we can the last three or four months to achieve higher and to represent the university in a better way, and I know Brandon is doing that better than anybody right now. He wants to get on the field and perform at a higher level and I want to coach at a higher level, so that’s what we’re both trying to get done.”
Arkansas will have five quarterbacks, including Allen, battle for the starting gig. Last year’s backup AJ Derby will compete, along with Allen’s brother Austin Allen and early enrollee Rafe Peavey. Redshirt freshman Damon Mitchell will also be in the mix.
Chaney says that although there is a quarterback battle, Brandon is the leader at this point and is taking the most reps, mainly because he’s the veteran and is the most familiar with the offense.
“Right now Brandon’s probably getting a little more reps than anybody because he’s familiar. He’s earned that right to get more as we get through it,” Chaney told Whole Hog Sports. “We’ll look at some stuff over spring break when Coach Bielema and I get some time to visit, just to find some direction on where we want to go in terms of reps as the spring progresses. Until we decide which way we want to go we’ll continue to distribute those reps the same. I’m sure that will eventually come to a halt and we’ll have to make some tough decisions.”
Fans are always excited about the new guy, and Peavey is the early enrollee who is currently competing this spring. Chaney likes what he’s seen from Peavey, and he added he’s doing as well as can be expected for a freshman signal caller.
“I think Rafe can throw the ball good,” Chaney said. “He’s a young kid and a little lost on some concepts. In a few areas, he understands. He’s like every other true freshman quarterback in his first spring. But he’s shown some talent and flashes.”
Arkansas is in the midst of a nine-game losing streak to end the 2013 season, and this is the first spring any Hogs team has entered having lost every SEC game the year before.
They have many holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but the offense has to find a stable contributor at quarterback who can complete a much higher percentage of passes. Whether that’s Brandon Allen or whether that’s one of the others competing for the job, Bret Bielema has to have steadier play from his signal callers if he hopes to compete for a bowl game in 2014.
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