Alex Collins is the real deal. More importantly, so is Brandon Allen. That's the early takeaways after Arkansas' first scrimmage of fall camp Saturday afternoon before around 3,000 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
It may be tough for some to decide on the best news, but I'll go with Collins. I expected Brandon Allen to pick up where he left off last spring when he was clearly the best quarterback on campus -- so much so that Brandon Mitchell transferred.
Mitchell may do well at North Carolina State, but it's clear that new coach Bret Bielema's first major decision with his team was impressive. Allen was 16 of 17 passing in Saturday's scrimmage for 200 yards, almost all of it out of play-action calls.
No, it was what Collins did -- despite suffering from headaches early in the week after skipping breakfasts two days -- on his 12 carries that impressed the most. He'll more than help the Razorbacks. Jonathan Williams and Kody Walker did not disappoint Saturday, but Collins was superb.
Collins is the Plantation, Fla., star that was considered the best prep running back in Florida last year. It hit me during the scrimmage what that means. He is a stud, maybe times two.
There were yelps of glee among the 3,000 or so fans in Reynolds Razorback Stadium after just one run. Six plays deep, Collins circled right end with a smooth run that went for 12 yards. Just like running backs coach Joel Thomas said earlier this week, he is a fluid, gliding runner. And, when someone does lock him up, he sinks his hips and churns his legs. The defender gives.
There was also an impressive run behind pulling center Luke Charpentier (working with the ones with Travis Swanson out with a tight hamstring). Collins put his hand on Charpentier's hip to suggest the way to take the defender, then he cut off Charpentier's block for another 10 yards. It was wonderful. There were more yelps in the stands.
It was a fun day for Arkansas fans. They seemed to like the one-on-one battles near the goal line that Bielema sets up every day. Fans cheered as the players trotted to the other end of the field for special teams work, perhaps many with knowledge of what that means to this program now. It's down-and-dirty hard work in those one-on-one matchups.
There were nods of approval as true freshman linemen Dan Skipper, Denver Kirkland and Reeve Koelher went through their paces. Kirkland wore No. 55, not the 71 that I saw on some rosters. He's huge, but so are the other two. Skipper doesn't look 6-10 until measure him against a Brey Cook, every bit of 6-7. It's that Skipper is getting the right proportions sooner than expected.
There were also cheers when Zach Hocker's punts spiraled some 50 and 60 yards. Well, one of them went the distance because it was too much for the return man. How do you track down a punt like that? You don't. You let it go and he did. Then, during the scrimmage, Hocker was true on a 57-yard field goal with some extra on the end.
I kept my eyes on right tackle Grady Ollison, now over 300 pounds for the first time in his life. Could he keep up with the likes of Trey Flowers? Yes, for the most part. Ollison isn't perfect, but there was some athletic moves to cut off the fleet Flowers several times when I thought Flowers had the first step. But, no, Ollison got there.
There was only one drop among the receivers, a bobble from Julian Horton. There were some nice grabs by true freshman tight end Hunter Henry of a couple of under thrown passes. Wideout D'Arthur Cowan was the top target and he didn't disappoint. I loved true freshman Drew Morgan, too.
What about the tight ends? The first set of Austin Jones in the middle with Braylon Mitchell and Jarrett Lake on the outside played solid football. There were flashes from newcomers Martrell Spaight and Brooks Ellis. Jones had a sack and Spaight had a lost yardage stop.
Otha Peters and A. J. Turner, the starters by the end of year last year, did get some action, but neither did anything of note -- other than Peters coming up with air on a Collins cut. That will not be the first time a wow cut by Collins does that to an SEC linebacker.
While Allen was superb at quarterback, there was nothing of real note from the other quarterbacks. Backup A. J. Derby had some bright spots, but some rough edges, too. The good news is that the top two quarterbacks and the lead running backs did not have a turnover. They protected the ball and there were few penalties.
I'm guessing that most who saw the first fall scrimmage of the Bielema era liked what they saw, probably because of Allen and Collins. But there was enough defense from the likes of end Chris Smith, safety TQ Coleman and an obviously fast set of outside linebackers (Mitchell and Lake) to think there is improvement on that side of the ball, too.
And, yes, Alex Collins is exactly as advertised, the real deal.
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