July 23, 2014

Razorback Football Mailbag






Members of HawgSports.com asked questions on The Razor's Edge Premium Forum for this weeks' Razorback Team Mailbag.

Treeclimber2 - From what you saw last year, to what you have seen this year. Is this football team better in all areas?

If you mean by position groups, then yes they should be better everywhere - even if only slightly better.

Aside from former Hog Tyler Wilson, every second-year starter has had an improved pass efficiency rating since Arkansas joined the Southeastern Conference, and that includes Barry Lunney Jr., Clint Stoerner, Matt Jones, Casey Dick and Ryan Mallett.

In addition to impressive spring newcomers Jared Cornelius and Cody Hollister, Arkansas also gets back Demetrius Wilson, who was injured all of last year. Hopes are high for fellow newcomers JoJo Robinson and Kendrick Edwards. And if Keon Hatcher can get his ball security issues under control, he can be a weapon.

The tight end position will be better with three legitimate pass-catching threats, and aside from the center position the offensive line should be improved at all spots. Arkansas returns its top three running backs, and all are talented and bring different styles to the table.

The offense will be better because there are more weapons, Brandon Allen will be healthier, and there is a more experience and talented offensive line.

The defensive tackle position loses two key contributors, but Darius Philon is the most talented of the bunch, and he returns. Overall, this position is a little thin numbers-wise, but that should be offset with some of Arkansas' big defensive ends working inside at times, too. And while that group loses Chris Smith, there are plenty of talented bodies at DE.

The linebackers really have nowhere to go but up after last season. Numbers still aren't great in terms of returning players, but if they can just figure out the right mixture they will at least be slightly better.

It's the same in the secondary - nowhere to go but up, really. Tevin Mitchel had a really nice spring and could return to form, and there is nice competition at the other corner spot. They will be better, but they were still a weakness last season, especially without Will Hines. If Arkansas decides to move forward with redshirt freshman De'Andre Coley at one of the safety spots, they should be better.

The defense as a whole will be better because they will be more attacking. Missouri last year was a big-play defense that actually gave up more yardage than Arkansas on the season but forced a whopping 32 turnovers compared to just 14 for the Razorbacks. Mixing things up with three defensive ends and working safety TiQuention Coleman at linebacker could help Arkansas' efforts to disrupt offenses.

chsrocket09 - How much better do you see this defense playing this year under new DC Robb Smith? What's your prediction for the season if we beat Auburn?

As I said in the previous answer, I expect a better defense. They aren't going to out-personnel many teams, but they can get back to being a scrappy, opportunistic defense that out-schemes teams and disrupts offenses. Give up some big plays here and there, fine. But if the defense makes as many big plays then that's a victory for them. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers - that is the key for Arkansas.

If Arkansas beats Auburn - and at this point I certainly am not predicting that - that could change a lot of things. It would be a major confidence boost. It would re-energize the fan base and it would give Arkansas an early leg up in the hunt for bowl eligibility. I don't see it happening, but following Auburn's run to the national championship in 2010, it took a miracle for them to beat Utah State (42-38) in the 2011 season opener.

Of course, that year the Tigers were transitioning from Cam Newton to Barrett Trotter. Auburn will have preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback Nick Marshall back this season, unless Gus Malzahn opts to suspend him following his citation for marijuana earlier this month…which is also unlikely.

WhiskeyDrunk - Who do you think will be the leading tackler this season? Every terrible defense seems to be led by a Safety in tackling, so please list a linebacker.

Arkansas was led by a safety last season in Alan Turner, but while the defense struggled there was also a lot of shuffling at linebacker throughout the season where as Turner started almost the entire year.

In Robb Smith's lone season at Rutgers as defensive coordinator, weakside linebacker Khaseem Greene not only led the Scarlet Knights with 136 tackles, 6 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions and 2 defensive touchdowns, but he was also named Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Greene was drafted after that season by Chicago in the fourth round. He was also a former safety.

Mike Taylor, another outside linebacker, led Wisconsin in tackles Bielema's last two years. He was eventually a free agent pickup by Seattle. Blake Sorensen, Jaevery McFadden, Jonathan Casillas and Mark Zalewski all played linebacker for Wisconsin under Bielema and led the team in tackles.

2013 marked the first time in Bielema's career that a non-linebacker has led the team in tackles. It could truly be any of Arkansas' linebackers, but a good bet might be Martrell Spaight.

brianflops - How much playing time, if any, do you think Brian Wallace gets this season? T or G?

Brian Wallace certainly looks the part. With four positions pretty well set along the offensive line, there would have to be some shake-up for that to happen. It is unlikely they would put Wallace at center, but it is possibly they would consider another player there. He has talent like 2013 true freshman starters Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland, but the need was a little bigger last year to get those guys on the field. It would not surprise either way, but it's probably a little bit too early to tell.

piperrod - Many on this board think we have a very good o-line. I see an o-line that lost its best player, will be starting two young but talented sophomores, a SR that has not lived up to expectations, and two starting spots still "unwon" that may be filled by FR or others arriving in August. How would you rank this o-line in the SEC and how do you fee about them as a group?

Everyone talks about the question marks at quarterback across the league, but few are discussing the question marks at offensive line - especially among the traditional powers in the Eastern Division. So there's Tennessee replacing all five, Florida and Georgia replacing everyone but a center and left tackle, Kentucky struggling up front last year and Vanderbilt going through a head coaching change. Missouri and South Carolina appear to have the most stable situation in the Eastern Division.

Arkansas is probably in a better situation than Tennessee is in right now as the Vols plan to replace all five starters up front…many of whom were recruited there by current Razorback offensive line coach Sam Pittman. Florida and Georgia only return the starting centers from a year ago. So, I like Arkansas' situation better than those three.

Even though they lost their best player, Auburn returns four on the offensive line, and Texas A&M is in the exact same boat. So, Arkansas is almost certainly not as good as those two up front.

Based on Alabama's recruiting, even though only two starters return, one has to assume they're going to be better than Arkansas up front. The same is true at Missouri, Missouri (three starters), South Carolina (three starters) and LSU (three starters). After all, those three each won at least 10 games in 2013.

Arkansas' OL is probably going to be better than Vanderbilt's, even though they return three starters, and Mississippi State's (2 starters). And it isn't unreasonable, even with stud Laramy Tunsil to place them at a tie with Ole Miss (2 starters).

From a preseason standpoint, Arkansas' outlook is tied with Ole Miss for a middle of the pack offensive line, seventh in the SEC behind AU, TAMU, Mizzou, USC, LSU and Bama and ahead of UGA, UF, UT, Vandy, Kentucky and MSU.

VBHOG - What factor or factors will determine the difference in a 5-7 season vs. a 7-5 season? Also DW has said this team seems hungry, so can that make up for lack of talent in certain areas and take us to a bowl game? Thanks!

Few saw Arkansas and Auburn falling as bad as they did in 2012, and the same is the case for Florida in 2013. All those teams were coming off seasons of at least 11 wins the year prior. Somebody will slip up like that this year, and Arkansas needs it to be a team on their schedule.

The Hogs face four SEC teams that will be breaking in a new quarterback…six actually, but Missouri's Maty Mauk and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott are more than proven. Recruiting rankings mean nothing at this point. Nobody knows for sure who will be the next Johnny Manziel or Matt Jones, and nobody knows who will be the next bust, either. Quarterback play could determine a lot in 2014, and it is a huge at several schools.

Arkansas' offense should be able to produce points. The biggest question mark between Arkansas winning five games or somehow pulling out seven is whether or not the defense can be disruptive and force turnovers. A smaller population in the training room this season at some thin spots would also go a long way. Whether or not Arkansas can pull out a win on the road at Texas Tech should also (obviously) make a big difference in the final record.

RDJ703 - What type of impact do you expect JoJo Robinson to make this year? Are there any other immediate home run threats this year?

Since he's from all the way out in Florida, all anyone around here has seen is a highlight video. It is obvious however that he is very explosive, and that is something at the wide receiver position Arkansas greatly lacked in 2013.

What a highlight tape does not reveal is whether or not he's a reliable receiver. If he can catch the ball consistently, he can find a place on the field in the slot. Robinson and fellow true freshman Jared Cornelius should get a lot of opportunities. Cornelius was at Arkansas in the spring and showed glimpses of being an excellent receiver. Cornelius may not be quite as explosive as Robinson, but he has the ability to take it to the house.

Also, expect Robinson to get every opportunity to win the starting job at punt-return.

b1ghawgfan - Who do you think the starting WRs will be by the end of the year?

I think the starting flanker will be Keon Hatcher, the starting split end will be Demetrius Wilson and the starting slot will be Jared Cornelius. Wilson is the biggest unknown because he was injured all of 2013 after being a starter midway through fall camp last year. He looked good in the spring but was still held out of full contact scrimmages.

Hatcher has big-play ability if he can just hold onto the ball. He's not a great speed guy, but he has good speed and is the best tackle-breaker outside the running backs and tight end Hunter Henry.

I think there is also a role for the reliable hands of Cody Hollister on third downs.

eek-a-hog - How many different O-line combinations will we see start this year? In other words, will the "hands down" starting 5 be decided by Auburn or is this a line that will continue to move around and develop throughout the year? (Injury aside).

Good question, but it would be best if Arkansas knows where they're going with the offensive line early in the season. The one possible exceptions are if true freshman super-recruit Brian Wallace starts coming on midway through the season or if the same is true of junior college transfer Sebastian Tretola.

Aside from the new guys coming in, experienced players Mitch Smothers, Luke Charpentier and Grady Ollison are also fighting for time. If there are any down the road changes, expect it to involve the left guard and center.

shnuke - Who do see as a possible break out star for our team this year? Do you see Tevin Mitchell regaining his confidence he lost in the ULM debacle?

Though he is probably the No. 3 running back right now, it would not surprise if Korliss Marshall is that player. He is probably the biggest homerun threat on the team. Keon Hatcher could also be that guy. Some say people will be shocked at how good quarterback-turned-tight end A.J. Derby is going to be at his new spot.

Mitchell's biggest struggle last year was not necessarily giving up pass plays even when he was in position, it was tackling (or lack of tackling). Too often his technique was poor and he lunged at ball carriers leaving nothing but real estate in front of them. He has got to do a better job containing runners and being a more consistent tackler.

As a true freshman and early in his sophomore year it looked like the only thing in front of Mitchel and a date with the NFL Draft was adding more good weight. Then his neck injury ended his 2012 season, and he looked like he still thought about the neck every time he went for a tackle in 2013. He had a nice spring and was the only cornerback to go wire-to-wire as a starter.

chicks1244 - I went back and looked at Derby's recruiting page from high school and rivals said he would be a all American tight end. So my question is what kind of impact do you see him having this year? Also of this class who do you think will have a big impact and who will red shirt? And last if Williams is really 6'2 240 and even runs a 4.55 how does he not start or at least make the 2 deep right away.

It says that if he chose it, he could be an All-American tight end. He was really impressive at times this spring catching the ball - really impressive. There has even been talk in the Fred W. Smith Football Center that A.J. Derby could have the kind of season that catches the attention of NFL scouts. Even though he gave it his all to be a college quarterback, he looks like a great fit at tight end from the limited action he has received there.

Among the freshmen, expect receivers Jared Cornelius and JoJo Robinson to play, defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson, linebacker Randy Ramsey, cornerback Henre' Toliver and kicker Cole Hedlund to all play for sure. Something may come up where one or some of those redshirt, but those are my best bets right now. There will also be others who play. In 2013, Arkansas played eight true freshmen and considered playing a couple more.

If Joshua Williams is actually 6-2, 245 and runs a 4.45 as listed or even a 4.55 it would be surprising. That said, it would be really surprising if he does not make the two-deep given the low numbers at linebacker. Maybe he even starts? -Impossible to say without having even seen him. Even if he's 6-2, 245 and runs a true 4.65, that would be really good 'measurables' for any linebacker, college or pro.

Abbeysdad - Was wondering about KT Marks....I'm guessing that he was a reach in this last class if we think our best option is a DE and a true freshman will start. Has be added any weight? I would think he has to at least be somewhere in the rotation since he redshirted last year. Also is this the year that Randy Shannon will make a difference in the decision making of our linebackers. I understand that he can't overcome a lack of talent but he can make sure they know where to line up. Didn't seem that way last year.....and is there a chance they could move Anthony Brown to LB?

Ke'Tyrus Marks was a recruit who definitely needed some development. He was a projection guy. He came from a high school that Charlie Partridge told me often gets skipped over when coaches are touring through South Florida. He had a big-time senior season and set his school's sack record. But he needed added size and strength. It'll be interesting to see how far he has or hasn't developed this off-season. He is currently listed at 6-2, 303 pounds after signing on at 6-2, 285. He was listed at 303 last year as a true freshman, which leads me to believe it hasn't been updated on the official roster.

Bijhon Jackson is physically ready to play as a true freshman. He's one of the strongest kids to ever come out of this state, also. And you've got three really nice-looking redshirt sophomore DEs, including Deatrich Wise who goes about 6-6, 280 and has shown he can get it done at the 3-technique.

Last year at linebacker, it is true Randy Shannon just did not have a lot to work with there. Additionally, the starters week in and week out seemed to change. Starting out with Louisiana, Austin Jones was the starting middle linebacker and Price Holmes saw a lot of action. By the midway point of the season, neither of those linebackers were anywhere to be found other than on special teams. At times it looked like they'd roll with Otha Peters and Martrell Spaight, but then the next week those guys wouldn't be there. Then they took the redshirt off of Brooks Ellis. The whole time they had Jarrett Lake and Braylon Mitchell flipping from WILL to SAM and back again. There was just no consistency week-to-week as they tried to find the right group.

On the surface, it's easy to say the best three linebackers are Ellis, Peters and Spaight with Mitchell also playing a key role, but there are always underlying things the coaches see that most do not. The linebacker corps really has nowhere to go but up after 2013.

I don't see Anthony Brown moving to linebacker. He could, but they also brought in two safeties and a defensive end that they recruited to play linebacker and are listed as linebackers. Brown played defensive end in high school and is listed at that spot.

Stevo 939 - So much depends on Brandon Allen. I thought he started last year looking decent (for a newbie) but after the injury he seemed to fall apart, not only unable to throw the deep ball, but mentally as well, focusing on one receiver, throwing into crowds, getting spooked easily. The spring game also didn't do much for our confidence level. What did you see in spring practices? Is he the player we saw post-injury last year and in the spring? Can he throw a deep ball now? Is he staring receivers down and throwing into crowds? If memory serves, in high school he had great accuracy and rarely threw interceptions. Can he be that guy again?

I thought Brandon Allen's spring game performance was not indicative of how his spring went. I know he started off poorly in the scrimmage, but he did finish like 8 of 9. I'm not saying he'll be a superstar at Arkansas, but I do feel at this time he is the best option at quarterback. The coaches said he had a shoulder bruise last season. Well, a bruised shoulder is typically a side effect of a more serious injury inside the shoulder. We know there were four or five weeks where he didn't even throw until the day before a game.

Allen never made an excuse for the shoulder, but as spring rolled around other players definitely started bringing up more and more that Allen is a better player than he was able to show last season. I know it's high school, but Allen did not throw a single interception during the regular season of his senior year. When healthy, he throws a nice ball with regard to his throwing motion and the rotation with good zip.

With a better cast around him, I expect improved numbers from Allen. And if those numbers don't improve, no fan base should have to watch the same quarterback lead his team to such a bad performance in back-to-back years, and in that case there will be a change. But I don't think it's fair to say he needs to be benched right now in favor of a quarterback who at this point is not as good just based on his 2013 showing.

If there is a change at quarterback, I would expect it to be due to a rough start three games into the season. It would be much smarter to give a freshman quarterback his first start against Northern Illinois rather than Texas A&M. And if a change were to be made after Texas A&M due to the following bye week, the next game on the schedule is Alabama…

soarkman - What concerns the Arkansas players the most about Auburns offense and defense? On the flip side, what about Auburns offense and defense do they feel they can exploit?

Obviously the pace Auburn uses is going to be a concern, especially being able to run the offense they want at home. To me, Nick Marshall is a really scary quarterback, especially the way he seemed to keep getting better last year. He is not a great passer, but he is such a good runner that it really opens things up in the passing game for some big-play receivers like Sammy Coates, who averaged 21.5 yards per catch last season.

Despite losing their best player up front, the offensive line still returns four starters. And to me, Tre Mason should have won the Heisman last year and is gone to the NFL, but there are some quality backs on the roster, still.

Bielema always talks about this, but Arkansas' offense needs to get going and keep Auburn off the field. Nothing would be better than to start the game with a nice, long opening drive, a quick three-and-out or a forced turnover and another score. That's how to frustrate an offense like Auburn - make them feel like they're not doing well enough and get into their head.

Defensively, despite losing their best player, Auburn returns half their starting defense, led by defensive tackle Gabe Wright and free safety Jermaine Whitehead. Against this defense, yes, Arkansas needs to score, but they also need to avoid costly mistakes like turnovers and big penalties. As in golf, keep the ball in bounds and stay away from trees and hazards, and it's amazing how much better the score gets.

tomt7 - Will center be our Achilles heel?

It's quite possible tomt7. Replacing a four-year starter who was an NFL Draft pick with a junior college player, a true freshman or a senior who has never started isn't exactly ideal, but they will get it figured out. To me, the best option is Luke Charpentier, the senior who has never started. He's bright, he has played some and he has been in the system. Obviously there's going to be a significant drop off at this position following Travis Swanson, but in the 85-scholarship era it is almost impossible to be stacked at every single spot. Everyone has issues.

candyred - Can you name a player from each level of the defense and offense that is a freshman or sophomore that you believe will have the biggest impact this year. Also give a little detail to why you think they will make a big impact. Other than QB. Thanks.

I'm going to skip the obvious names at quarterback and running back if you don't mind. Everyone knows the options there.

At fullback, there are a lot of younger candidates. The guy to keep an eye on, though, might be true freshman Tyler Colquitt. Colquitt joined the team as a walk-on but was given a scholarship this summer. Coaches don't just throw those around as that scholarship counts against a recruiting class since he has not been on campus two full years. They must see something there. Redshirt freshman Chris Jones has also drawn praise from coaches and also walked on at Arkansas last year.

At wide receiver, definitely watch out for sophomore junior college transfer Cody Hollister, who has great hands, and true freshmen JoJo Robinson for his speed and Jared Cornelius for his all-around skills.

On the offensive line, there are obvious sophomores who contributed last year in Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland. But watch out for incoming freshmen Brian Wallace and Frank Ragnow. Wallace was a Rivals100 recruit, and Ragnow turned down home state Minnesota and national champion Florida State to come to Arkansas.

True freshman Bijhon Jackson will play on the defensive line. All three redshirt sophomore defensive ends will play a big role. Brooks Ellis returns as a starting linebacker from last season as a true freshman. D.J. Dean could help at cornerback or safety and is a true sophomore, and redshirt freshman De'Andre Coley could be a rising star at safety. Also, expect true freshman Cole Hedlund to win the starting kicker job.

Jackson is physically strong enough to come in and play right away. Coley is a big-hitter with speed to close and is only scratching the surface. Hedlund is the nation's all-time high school field goal record holder.

Hogvayne - Why no backup QB as a holder? Or can Toby Baker run some trick plays?

Toby Baker, a punter and holder, played quarterback in high school, going 96 of 187 passing for 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns at Memphis University School, so if needed he could throw. Bielema has always said he wants each kicker to have one player as their holder - just one. So in practice you don't want one quarterback to go off with the kickers all day long. I'm sure if they wanted to run a fake they could sneak a quarterback or a back into the game to hold, or rely on Baker's quarterback background. How often have you seen a holder take the snap and throw a pass, though? That usually only happens in a fire situation. Usually the fakes are carried out differently. Bielema has shown a propensity to run a lot of fakes, however. Last year the only pass thrown by a specialist was by punter Sam Irwin-Hill on a designed trick play.



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