April 30, 2014

Spring Wrap: Dos & Don'ts






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PROJECTED DEPTH CHART FOR AUG. 30, 2014

Arkansas has wrapped up spring drills, exit interviews and post-spring press conferences and will now focus on recruiting during the spring evaluation period.

This is the final spring wrap with plenty of facts and conjecture as well as some "dos and don'ts."

QUARTERBACK

While Brandon Allen was the best quarterback this spring, it seemed the main reason for that was his experience. He has a bigger arm than his younger brother Austin Allen and is more mobile, but as far as pure talent goes the edge may go to true freshman Rafe Peavey. There is still a lot to be determined as far as gamesmanship with Peavey because not only did he not get any reps with the first offense, he has not been put into a situation where his team is within striking distance in the fourth quarter against an SEC defense...not that Allen fared well in that department.

"When we have everyone working together, everyone doing the right thing every single play, we're tough to stop," Brandon Allen said. "I think this summer getting everything right, we're a tough offense when we're clicking."

"The thing that we have to eliminate from our program altogether are the things that are going to keep you winning," Razorback head coach Bret Bielema said. "All the little things that are going to make you better in the long run.


"The starting quarterback position, you can say whatever you want, it's entirely different than any position on the field. They get too much blame when they lose, and they get way too much credit when they win."

The concern with Austin is that the more that got put in during the spring, the further back he seemed to fall. He also took way too many sacks, albeit touch sacks, than he should have during scrimmage work. He played well in limited action with the No. 1 offense, but he had a rough go at it with the second team. Peavey was never going to win the starting job this spring as he had plenty of learning to do, but a great offseason and camp could put him in position to take over at some point in the season if Brandon does not show significant improvement from a year ago. Peavey has the natural ability, but right now he is learning and not competing for a starting job.

Don't do it: Don't push for Peavey too fast, and this goes out to coaches and fans. He still has a long way to go, and the coaches know that more than anyone else. They don't want to put him in a situation that might scar him. Bring him along at the right pace and put him in situations where he can have success. Don't decide to put him into a game on the third series even though his heels are backed up to the goal line just because it was in the plans. Fans, understand that the coaches know more about the quarterback situation than anyone else and genuinely want to play the best option. It's their jobs on the line, after all. Like it or not, today that's Brandon Allen. In September that might change but it doesn't mean it will.

Do it: If Brandon Allen does not get it done in a couple of Arkansas' key early games, pull him out and replace him with another quarterback. If Peavey is ready then do it with him, if not go with Austin. There is no place on this team for a 'here we go again' mentality, and that could happen with two early losses to Auburn and Texas Tech. A new quarterback could spark the team during a time they are realizing they are not going to be the surprise team this season…if it comes to that, of course. If Brandon shows improvement and gets it done, he should be the man. But no fan base should be forced to watch the same quarterback go 3-9 in back-to-back seasons.

RUNNING BACK

Alex Collins will likely continue as the second back to enter the game, but there will be times next season when Jonathan Williams, Collins or Korliss Marshall are used on the field at the same time in two-back sets. And as was done last season last season, even though neither back missed a game, Williams typically started but Collins had more carries. Bielema said Wednesday that Williams should have received more carries last season. All the backs could be more involved in the passing game this season, as well.

"That's what I hired Jim Chaney for," Bielema said. "It's something that's definitely intriguing. If we can do it, Korliss might bring some skills where we could use him somewhere else on the field, whether it be at slot receiver [or elsewhere].

"Every championship season I've been involved in, we've been a team that has used three running backs.

"Alex might have had his best month in our program. Just had to wake him up in some areas," Bielema said. "He's nowhere scratched the surface of where he could be."

This coming season, expect Marshall to cut into more of their carries with Williams leading the pack in starts and carry volume. There could also be formations that see Williams lined up as a fullback as he would be the best candidate due to his size and physical running style, but a split back set would not be unwelcome. That is nothing more than speculation at this point, though Marshall could line up in the slot at times.

"Anything to help the team. My freshman year I played fullback a little bit. People don't, I guess, remember that, but I played fullback a little bit my freshman year. Whatever's going to help the offense go, I'm willing to do."

Bielema has said that he is not thrilled about the play of the fullbacks at this time and could explore having two running backs in the game more often. The team's strengths as far as receiver eligible players go are at running back and tight end.

Don't do it: Before Marshall was sidelined for a portion of spring with an undisclosed issue that required stitches, he told members of the media that he wanted to get up to 220 pounds. Marshall is currently the most explosive player on the team at a little under 205 pounds, which is bigger than he was last year. Don't get too big too fast and don't mess up a good thing. Arkansas needs a good change-of-pace with each back. Williams offers a tackle-breaking pounder with elusiveness. Collins provides a steady, slashing back with a nice initial burst and full-speed cuts. Marshall can take it to the house at any moment. Don't mess with that. Put on a little more muscle, but don't get carried away.

"The most exciting guy is obviously Korliss," Bielema said. "I think all he's saying is he wants to get a little thicker, a little bigger. Korliss is a guy that plays a lot off emotion.

"I could see 10 pounds because of eating right, training right. I actually think he could become faster with some added weight."

Do it: Run more single back sets with two tight ends or with three wide receivers or use two tailbacks. There are multiple tight end sets that are already a staple of the offense, so why put a fullback on the field just to put one out there? -That would not be making use of the team's best five skill players unless it's a set where Williams lines up as a fullback. Additionally, receiver Jared Cornelius will eventually become the best receiver on the team once he gains more experience. He needs to be on the field, and his primary position is the F-receiver (slot), which means he usually will only be in the game in three-wide sets. Don't limit his reps just to put a fullback out there if the fullback is not considered an asset.

WIDE RECEIVER

Things could change during fall camp with the addition of more freshmen receivers, most notably JoJo Robinson, but as stated the receiver with the most potential on the team right now is Cornelius. Once he gains experience he will be a tough matchup for defensive backs. This position has improved top to bottom not only because players like Keon Hatcher have more experience and Demetrius Wilson returns from an injury, but also because of the new additions. Cornelius provides the team with a shifty receiver with great hands who can get separation and was missing last season. JUCO transfer Cody Hollister appears to have been vastly undervalued and is as reliable a receiver as Arkansas has had since Jarius Wright (in terms of catching what is thrown his way). Hollister only seems to need a little bit of separation to catch anything that is thrown in his vicinity. Last season on third downs, Arkansas did not have a wide receiver who was going to catch the ball no matter what. Hollister could be that guy.

"Jared could be a really great player," Hatcher said. "He has a lot of upside. The only thing he has to do is continue working and have that passion and drive for the game. The sky's the limit for him.

"Coming up, I've always been that type of guy just making sure everything's right, how it's supposed to be," Hatcher said. "The coaches come at me also like I'm supposed to be [a leader]."

Don't do it: Don't let Damon Mitchell transfer. Mitchell reluctantly moved from quarterback to receiver this spring and showed impressive potential. He also has potential at quarterback, and he could be developed into a good one potentially, but as it stands he does not give Arkansas the best opportunity to win as a QB. It sounds as though he will return at wide receiver, but this can be a tough deal for QBs.

"He said he was going to come back and try the wide receiver position," Bielema said. "I think Saturday if you asked anybody leaving the stadium who made the biggest impression on them, he'd be one of two or three people."

Do it: Consider working tight end Jeremy Sprinkle more at wide receiver. He's 6-6, 230 and is light for a tight end that needs to do everything that Bielema wants a tight end to do. He's an excellent receiver, and while the receiver corps got an upgrade, they don't have a 6-6 jump-ball threat. Playing Sprinkle more at receiver would give Arkansas the opportunity to put him in with Hunter Henry on more occasions or even Sprinkle, Henry and A.J. Derby. It is something to consider.

TIGHT END

As already stated, this group is one of Arkansas' strengths, especially with the addition of Derby. Derby showed surprising athleticism this spring and should help. This will be one of the deepest positions on the team next season even with Mitchell Loewen's impending move to defensive end. While Henry did not have a spectacular spring in terms of scrimmage totals, he is still the team's best tight end and has a chance to finish his career at Arkansas as the best to ever play the position. If not, finishing second to D.J. Williams would be no small task.

Don't do it: While one has to respect the move of Derby to tight end from quarterback, don't make the mistake of playing him more than Sprinkle. While Derby stood out this spring, perhaps no receiver or tight end on the team had a more consistent spring than Sprinkle. As the spring closed, Derby was getting more first team reps than 'Sprink.' That is understandable now while trying to get Derby more acclimated to the position and rewarding him for making a selfless move. When the season arrives, doing that would be an error in judgment.

"[Derby] knows a lot about football and just coverages and different things about defenses," Henry said. "He's just growing us as a whole. He's doing tremendous things for us."

Do it: Make Henry a major player in the offense. Twenty-eight catches was good for a true freshman with fluid in his knees, but he needs to be a consistent target in 2014. Catching 2 passes for 37 yards one week against Texas A&M and catching 4 for 109 the next week against Florida won't do. He needs to be the team's primary receiving target and should catch more like 5-7 balls a game. No other player on the team is going to be better than the man he lines up against 90 percent of the time or more like Henry will.

"We've got to make plays on the ball and just help the quarterback out at times," Henry said.

OFFENSIVE LINE

This is an improving bunch, and one of the major reasons for it is Arkansas' recruiting. There is the potential for a player like Rivals100 stud Brian Wallace to come in and make some serious noise. There are openings at center and left guard. It is more difficult to replace an experienced center with an incoming player, so expect Mitch Smothers or Luke Charpentier to start at that spot this fall. Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland are entrenched at left tackle and right guard, respectively.

Don't do it: Don't play a newbie at center. Sebastian Tretola and Frank Ragnow could be more talented than Smothers and Charpentier, maybe not, but the center is relied upon to make so many decisions, to know fronts, to flip protections and more. The center should know what everyone on the offensive line is doing. Going from a player like future NFL draft pick Travis Swanson to a first-year center could be a dangerous leap. Look at Tretola and Ragnow at guard first.

Do it: If Wallace comes in and is as good as advertised, get him on the field. Bielema had no reservations about starting two true freshmen last year, and that could be the case this year with a player like Wallace who was actually rated higher than Kirkland and Skipper were as recruits. Wallace is a natural at tackle, so if he is good enough to be in the starting lineup, move Brey Cook from starting right tackle over to starting left guard to get the best five on the field. Coaches said repeatedly last year that Cook's natural position is at guard and that he will be moved to guard in the NFL whether they moved him or not. If Wallace is good enough to get on the field but the coaches don't trust him as a starting tackle, put him at guard for a year like they did with Skipper.

"If they need me to go somewhere else I'll jump in there and do the best I can, but I like where I'm at," Cook said. "I guess I am built more like a guard and if I do make it I would play a lot of guard in the NFL."

DEFENSIVE LINE

Darius Philon is the real deal. He's strong and quick and it shows up on the field. He not only had a terrific spring, but he showed last season he could get the job done as a starter. Philon is a bit undersized on paper, but there is nothing to indicate that is a problem when he is on the field. Demarcus Hodge is oversized and that has been a bit of a problem. He checked in at 6-1, 350 last year and coaches said he carried the weight well. Now listed at 6-1, 343, Bielema said he needed to lose some weight. While Hodge will be a quality player for Arkansas, the door is open for true freshman Bijhon Jackson, who possesses the strength, quickness and attitude to contribute right away. Jackson has size like Byran Jones as a freshman but is quicker. Arkansas needs him to jump in ready to go and in great shape because depth on the interior is thin.

Taiwan Johnson was and end but played tackle last season and is a good bet to see action on third-and-long situations as he is quick but undersized to be an every down DT. Arkansas worked with defensive ends at tackle a great deal this spring. This is a much deeper spot than defensive tackle as Arkansas has four impressive young ends to go with veteran Trey Flowers. The most talented one of the bunch is sophomore Deatrich Wise at 6-6 and approximately 280 pounds. Wise had five touch sacks in the spring scrimmage, but coaches want him to be more consistent down-to-down…and maybe to hold off on the extra celebrating after a big play.

"He's a kid with unbelievable talent and a lot of god-given ability," Bielema said. "He's definitely showing great, great signs. He's using his hands, he's being aggressive."

"On the field I'm a totally different person. Off the field people say I'm very kind hearted. On the field, it's every man for himself. It's a war. I like to get a little trash talking in, have a little fun here and there. Dancing is how I express myself kind of. That's how I am on the field," Wise said.

Brandon Lewis is also a candidate to start and probably saw more first team work than Wise did throughout the 15 spring practices. Lewis had knee surgery on Wednesday but will be good to go for fall camp. Though Bielema said someone like JaMichael Winston could end up at tackle, it is more likely they will keep him at end but work at defensive tackle in certain situations.

Don't do it: Don't waste Flowers' time at tight end, or at least don't make it a regular thing. Tight end is loaded and there is nothing he can bring to the position that one of the regulars cannot. It's not a need. During discussion with Flowers and a possible early jump to the NFL, this topic was discussed. Moving Loewen from tight end to defensive end is a good move. Working Flowers at tight end is nothing more than something that might look good on a post-season award resume but would never be a reason a team would draft him and will not help the team other than possibly providing a small amount of publicity.

"It's very exciting to get your hands on the ball as a defensive guy. I like to think I have pretty good hands so I can catch a few balls," Flowers said. "A short pass maybe close to the end zone where I can just jump up and catch it or run a route and catch it would be fine with me."

Do it: Move Winston inside to defensive tackle, not as a situational deal but as a permanent move. Make the move now and set forth a plan for him to increase his weight. He has the size to be 300 pounds at some point - though unlikely could put on 30 quality pounds in a single off-season. Defensive end is deep, defensive tackle is not. This, unlike working Flowers at TE, would be a move that would improve the team and not detract from it.

LINEBACKER

Whether TiQuention Coleman was initially excited about the move from safety to linebacker or not, this was a smart move by the Razorback coaching staff. When in a nickel, this staff prefers to use more of a cornerback in the nickel rather than a hybrid linebacker/safety. Putting Coleman down a level where he can line up as a linebacker but use more safety techniques will prove valuable against hurry-up teams like Auburn and Texas Tech early in the schedule. Coleman has a chance to make plays now and play a real role during games rather than seeing mop-up duty in his final season as a safety. He has the body of a defensive back with the mentality of a linebacker anyway, and he is a great fit for this type of role.

Don't do it: Don't continue to stack Otha Peters and Brooks Ellis at MIKE when they are two of the three most talented linebackers. Despite coaches feeling last season that Ellis was a future starter at middle, this spring Bielema suggested he might be a better fit at WILL. That could be some foreshadowing by Bielema. Braylon Mitchell would be the odd man out in this scenario but he could still be the top backup at SAM and WILL and contribute a good deal.

Do it: This is kind of the same thing, but leave Peters at MIKE, move Ellis to WILL and move Martrell Spaight from WILL to SAM. Spaight may not love that move as he seems himself as more of an inside linebacker, but he is the only linebacker aside from Mitchell with the sideline-to-sideline speed to get the job done at SAM, and he is a bigger hitter than Mitchell. The only way Arkansas can get its best three linebackers on the field at the same time is if Peters is at MIKE, Ellis is at WILL and Spaight is at SAM.

SAFETY

First off, D.J. Dean will not be moving from cornerback to safety. That concept was discussed right after the spring, but they aren't moving forward with it as of now. That could change in fall camp but not right now. The best two options at safety right now are Alan Turner and Rohan Gaines mainly due to their experience, but that will not be the case for long as De'Andre Coley is coming along nicely. Davyon McKinney had highs and lows throughout the spring but could make a push also.

Don't do it: Don't mistake maturity for talent and go ahead and move De'Andre Coley into the starting lineup. Of all the safeties, he seems to have the highest ceiling though he is only a redshirt freshman. He ended or started every single spring scrimmage with an interception or a devastating hit. He draws regular praise from Bielema, as well. Just looking at him, he seems skinny but has good size potential and is still 191 pounds. With a great off-season and camp, he can move into a starting role if the coaches decide it is time…and it is time. Alan Turner knows where he is supposed to be and is an asset to the team, but when it comes time to deliver a blow or make a play on a ball in the end zone he has not had a lot of success. Coley is a playmaker, and if not mistaken that is one of the major goals of this new attacking style of defense. Gaines is a big hitter and when healthy has the combination of talent and experience that should make him the team's top safety this fall, but how far could Coley progress if moved into the starting lineup now alongside Gaines? What kind of safety would he be in 2015 compared to where Turner is now? Turner is a quality contributor, but coaches have to develop the players who can be great players.

Do it: Move Dean or Will Hines to safety. It may take all the way through fall camp, but there are enough decent cornerbacks on this team close to the same level and there are not a lot of options at safety. There are also more options among the incoming freshmen at cornerback than at safety. It just makes a lot of sense, and Hines and Dean are both big enough to comfortably make that move.

CORNERBACK

Tevin Mitchel made strides this spring and has grown more as a team leader. This is a player who seems to have regressed from his freshman to junior season but is now a senior and at least in scrimmage work looked like the best cornerback on the field. That is a welcome sight because Mitchel has shown great potential in the past. His biggest problem to date has been poor decisions with tackling techniques in the open field. He got beaten from time to time like all cornerbacks do, but his biggest struggle was in run support, and it was a glaring issue. Mitchel had shoulder surgery this week and should be good to go around the first week of fall camp.

Carroll Washington and Jared Collins each had a really good spring, but Hines was not with the first group even though he is viewed as a returning two-year starter in spite of last year's injury. Collins is currently 171 pounds, and his goal this off-season is to add weight…which has been Collins' goal every off-season since he arrived as a 149-pound freshman. While Collins is intelligent and can cover, his inability to support the run will likely keep him out of the starting lineup. That is an area where Washington really excelled in this spring.

"Carroll Washington's playing very well, the best that I've seen him play. I don't know if he made a change somewhere, but it's really helped him a lot," Collins said. "I've put on some weight, but my goal is to still put on more."

"Robb really takes as offensive an approach to defense as you can," Bielema said. "It's not going to make us blitz more or anything like that, but it allows the corner to play his base technique more aggressively."

"It's just the way they're being taught, the way they're being instructed," Bielema said. [Robb Smith] really believes in challenging wide receivers at the line-of-scrimmage."

Don't do it: Don't play any of the incoming freshmen unless one is just too good to keep off the field as a starter. There is no need to burn a redshirt for a backup role when Mitchel, Washington, Collins, Hines and Dean are all available. One true freshman corner can play if injuries become a factor, but otherwise one should only play if he can push for a starting job this early.

Do it: Continue this aggressive style of defense with pressing corners. Dictate what the offense does and don't let them decide how the defense will play. It is much more entertaining to see receivers challenged at the line-of-scrimmage, anyway. One gets the impression that when all is said a guy like Hines will be more effective in press coverage due to his size and long arms.

SPECIAL TEAMS

As for special teams, Sam Irwin-Hill is entrenched as the starting punter, Alan D'Appollonio will go unchallenged as the starting deep-snapper. Matt Emrich started at holder last year, but Bielema likes to have one kicker and one holder working together. When Cole Hedlund comes in and wins the starting job at placekicker, he could be working with a different holder as Emrich has been working with John Henson all spring. Korliss Marshall will return kickoffs along with a player that is to be determined. It is more likely the coaches will go with a receiver-type to return punts and JoJo Robinson has been promised that opportunity. If he doesn't have trouble fielding the ball, from an athletic standpoint he will prove to be the best option there.

Don't do it: Don't roll right and punt left when executing rugby punts.

Do it: Start working Robinson at punt-return from the get-go this fall camp and do everything possible to speed his progress from a comfort standpoint. If he struggles fielding the ball, give him so many punts that it becomes second nature to him. Also, just because some didn't like the timing of some fakes in the special teams game, don't stop doing it. Continue to be creative in this area because this is a team that will likely need to roll the dice at times.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART FOR AUG. 30, 2014




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