Will you need a program to figure out some of the players on the field this fall in new coach Bret Bielema's first season? How many in his first class will make a significant impact on the Arkansas football team this fall?
That's the questions I tried to answer as July unfolds and leaves us just eight weeks away from the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette in Fayetteville.
I think you start with the linebackers and the ones that I expect to make the most significant impact would have to be Brooks Ellis and Martrell Spaight. Myke Tavarres is in the mix already. I think he is probably best used in nickel situations.
Ellis and Spaight both excite the head coach and the defensive coordinator. Bielema and Ash mention them everytime I ask about who can help of the newcomers. Bielema is not sure where to play them until he see them on the practice field. He is not sure who fits best at mike and who fits best at sam. He thinks both have skills that help at both positions.
I've always thought Ellis as a mike and Spaight as a sam, but it's clear that the head coach thinks they are both versatile among those two spots. It seems like mike is the most pressing need here, but that is just me writing that. Have not heard that expressed by the coaches.
I think the three freshmen linemen -- Dan Skipper, Reeve Koehler and Denver Kirkland -- will all figure in the depth chart. They may not start, but they may be in there if any of the front liners falter. I'd think Skipper is a tackle and Koehler and Kirkland are guards, with one possibly getting a try at center. Koehler is the one in the winter that Bielema kept talking about playing early.
Hunter Henry seems talented enough to help at tight end. He did not play basketball last winter to concentrate on the weight room with the idea that he might be able to help as a freshmen. He's a top prospect. I think tight end is in decent shape, but he may be too talented to keep off the field.
Alex Collins is expected to play and challenge for playing time at running back. I'd be surprised if he doesn't make a significant impact this year. Those that know running backs say he has as much pure talent as anyone they've seen. He can sink his hips and cut in one motion. It makes him look herky jerky and some are puzzled by that.
But it's a good thing. He reminds he a little bit of Thurman Thomas in the way he cuts and uses his vision. He does it at full speed and not many can do that. Felix Jones had a little bit of that in him, a craftsman at running back. The thing that you have to remember about Collins is that he hasn't played much football, which makes me think that his potential is through the roof as he is developed further in this system.
Wide receiver Drew Morgan was mentioned a couple of times when I talked to Jim Chaney after spring. Chaney loves his ability and sees him as having potential to be a playmaker and help as a freshman.
The two freshmen, Austin Allen and Damon Mitchell, will get reps. How much they can handle is anyone's guess. I know Allen has probably been exposed to a little more offense at Fayetteville. Mitchell is probably on the raw side and Chaney mentioned that to me.
But Chaney also mentioned that Mitchell had the kind of skills that makes him a fascinating prospect, a nice combination of wheels and arm. They could be in the mix if they can handle the mental challenges of a college offense and can avoid mistakes.
Sam Irwin-Hill is the juco punter who will get here in August. I'd think he'd have a chance to make an impact. It's tough to expect Zach Hocker to handle all phases of the kicking game, although Bielema does not seem against that if he's the best at all three.
Running back Denzell Evans doesn't get the mentions of Collins, but he is very talented and physically strong. I'd say depth at running back makes it necessary to give him work early. He could be in the mix, too. He's a powerful runner, equipped to help in this system and play in the SEC.
Carroll Washington made an impact in the spring at corner. He's in the two deep already and will help in special teams and might be valuable in nickel packages. He's a playmaker. He finds the ball. So he's one of the JC guys who came through in the spring.
I am fascinated with Ke'Tyrus Marks. Without knowing what was on campus, his high school coach told me Marks would start. He said he's the best player he's had in over one decade of coaching. He said he's got a great burst, is strong and loves to hit the quarterback. He had 16 sacks last year. That's enough to tell me to watch out for his arrival.
I don't see many freshman tackles starting in the SEC and there is no need for that with the talent Arkansas returns at DT, but I like the sound of that. I also wonder if he might be a great candidate at end.
Of course, A. J. Derby is in the depth chart already at quarterback after the transfer of Brandon Mitchell. How well he does in August might determine what opportunity there is for practice snaps of the two freshman quarterbacks. Derby is talented. In the practices I saw, he had a few interceptions. But he seemed to become more accurate as the spring progressed. He needs a good start in two-a-days to keep the door closed on the freshmen for now.
Johnathan McClure is listed second at left guard behind Mitch Smothers. He had an up and down spring, as did most of the JC guys. He'll need a good summer and a fast start in August to hold off those freshmen O-linemen.
Tiquention Coleman made the depth chart at strong safety behind Rohan Gaines. Like the other JC guys, he had some days where you saw progress and days where you didn't seem to notice him. He's an important player because I don't see many safeties make it through the SEC unscathed. This is an important spot for depth.
Gaines had a great spring, but strong safeties get their shoulders knocked down in this league. Gaines is 5-11, 190. Coleman isn't much bigger at 5-10, 198, but he is a big hitter for his size. He'll be needed.
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