With the offseason officially underway, SDS will examine what’s next for spring football for all 14 teams. Next up, Arkansas.
Arkansas opens spring practice Sunday, and the Hogs’ annual spring game will be held April 26th.
It may not be what’s changing so much as to what needs to change. It was a rough first year for Bret Bielema and his staff, losing the final nine games and finishing 0-8 in conference. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash bolted for Ohio State, and arguably the top recruiter Charlie Partridge took the FAU head coaching gig. Bielema hired Robb Smith as his new defensive coordinator, Clay Jennings to coach the secondary and Rory Segrest to coach the defensive line. The Hogs also lose arguably their top two players in center Travis Swanson and defensive end Chris Smith.
Position of concern
There are concerns all over the roster, but the biggest concern is at wide receiver. Arkansas is similar to Florida in that they have an obvious lack of playmakers at receiver. Is there any receiver on the roster who can create separation after 10 yards? Yes, Brandon Allen has to be much better in the passing game, but there weren’t many receivers open. Leading receiver Javontee Herndon has graduated, and the next leading receiver is tight end Hunter Henry. In fact, three of the top five pass catchers are gone. Henry will play a massive role in the passing game, and Keon Hatcher has to have a bigger impact, too. Players like Eric Hawkins and D’Arthur Cowan have to step up. The Hogs do get back Demetrius Wilson, who should be a big contributor, but he likely won’t return until fall camp.
Position of strength
The Hogs’ biggest strength is the running game with All-SEC caliber backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. Collins took the SEC by storm, rushing for 1,026 yards and four touchdowns, while Williams recorded 900 yards and four touchdowns. If the Hogs develop a semblance of a passing game just to keep defenses honest, both backs should have even better seasons. Arkansas is in great shape at running back this spring.
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Three signees who will get you excited
1. Rafe Peavey, QB: The early enrollee will push Brandon Allen this spring. If he’s ready, Bret Bielema and Jim Chaney won’t hesitate to play him. He’s a great looking quarterback prospect.
2. Bijhon Jackson, DT: Jackson never wavered in his Arkansas commitment during last year’s struggles, and he should fit right into the defensive line rotation at a major position of need.
3. JoJo Robinson, WR: The Hogs have had great success in South Florida, and Robinson could be the next star. He’s quick as a cat, and he should have an instant impact on the receiving core in 2014.
Spring’s primary position battle
Arkansas is sticking with the SEC’s theme with a quarterback battle. Brandon Allen is the returning starter, and it’s his job to lose this spring. Allen threw for 1,552 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 INTs last season, and the struggles were obvious at times, completing less than 50 percent of his passes. Backup AJ Derby didn’t fare much better. Redshirt freshman Austin Allen, who is Brandon’s brother, was a coveted four-star signee, and we’ve already talked about how talented early enrollee Rafe Peavey is.
Emerging spring player prediction
Arkansas has to get much better at linebacker, and one player who really showed some flashes was Brooks Ellis. The 6-2, 230-pound Fayetteville native played well in his last four starts of the season at middle linebacker. He made 33 total tackles; he could be ready for a big sophomore season.
Offseason’s burning question
How will Bret Bielema’s career ultimately end up at Arkansas?
Hogs’ offseason crystal ball
Arkansas is basically rebuilding their program, and it will come down to the amount of talent Bielema can sign playing in the brutal SEC Western division every year. Can the Hogs double their 2013 win total? If so, they’ll go bowling in 2014.
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