Competition makes everyone better. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney looks at the entire unit and sees improvement in that regard and no where is it more evident than quarterback.
"The bar has been raised everywhere," Chaney said. "Everybody knows we have competition now. We have it at quarterback. I believe in competition. They understand it. Brandon Allen understands it."
But, it should not surprise that junior Brandon Allen, the starter last year, is still taking the first team repetitions at quarterback after two days of spring drills. The Hogs finished their second day in shorts and helmets on Tuesday. They'll don full pads on Thursday before taking spring break off starting Friday.
Allen took the snaps with the ones through the first two days of practice. Senior AJ Derby and redshirt freshman Austin Allen split the snaps with the twos. Redshirt freshman Duwop Mitchell and true freshman Rafe Peavey split the rest of the snaps. All got plenty of work.
It was offensive coaches and players in the interview room on Tuesday, led by Brandon Allen. The questions to Allen started with his right shoulder, injured in the second game last year and something Bret Bielema said last week was a source of considerable pain for the quarterback most of the year.
Chaney said Allen had great velocity in the first two days of spring drills. He said it was at least as good as it was before the injury, probably better.
"He had great velocity today," Chaney said. "He threw the ball a lot better than he did last year. He threw the ball very well. I know he's stronger and he looked like the quarterback before he got hurt. He played with a painful shoulder last year."
Allen wouldn't call it painful. Asked what it was like last year, he said, "Moderate (pain). I was good enough to go. I'm 100 percent now. I did have some discomfort. Now it's fine. Just feeling better helps."
But he said what he feels mentally two days into spring drills compared to the same point last spring is more significant. He said the entire offense is much easier for everyone, including quarterbacks.
"We are all definitely more confident in what we are doing," he said. "We don't have to re-install things. It's confidence for everyone. We are able to refine now. It's much further along for everyone in this offense.
"I'd call it like night and day difference, last spring at this point to last year at the same point. We definitely don't make nearly the number of mental mistakes. We are not in the formative stages of the offense now. It's a huge difference."
Chaney said, "Our kids can just play. They understand concepts better. I think the quarterbacks are like that and it's not unique to their position. I think we are further along because of the return of the offensive staff. I can't quantify that, but it's incredibly important that we are all back."
Chaney said he sees the difference in continuity in the offense with the grasp that Allen and Derby have of the offense.
"Those two, definitely understand more," Chaney said. "And our two returning freshman, Austin and Duwop, they are much further along. They are running more of offense.
"There are times that the three young ones are still lost. But they will get there. They have good ability. They can all throw it."
Chaney said Peavey looks like a quarterback practicing in college for the first time.
"It's just too early to say too much about him," he said. "He's learning everything, the steps. Sometimes it falls in place, but sometimes he's out of rhythm. That's how it is with all young quarterbacks. I'm pleased with him. He's done a nice job. Just remember, he's installing it all for the first time. It's difficult."
Chaney said things are always more complex than it looks.
"At this level, nothing is easy," he said. "There are incredible nuances to the offense for the quarterback. The older ones get those and the younger ones are learning them. For Rafe, there is a lot to take in."
He'll get a week for it to soak in during spring break.
"Hopefully, that will help him, as it does all of them," Chaney said. "We'll give him the installs that we'll make that next week and he can go through those and they'll be easier when we get back out there.
"But now, it's time to put on the pads. It's when the rubber meets the road for all of the players. You can't tell too much about any of them until the pads go on and that's Thursday."
Offensive line coach Sam Pittman said it's been a time to work on steps, individual work and technique, with padless workouts.
"That's why today, we had 90 minutes of individual," Pittman said. "Offensive line work, you really need pads to find out a lot. So what we did is try to get better fundamentally. I think we did."
Pittman, from left to right, had a first team line of tackle Dan Skipper, guard Grady Ollison, center Luke Charpentier, guard Denver Kirkland and tackle Brey Cook. Skipper moved from guard, Ollison from tackle. On the second unit, left to right, Pittman said it was tackle Austin Beck, guard Mitch Smothers, center Cordale Boyd, guard John McClure and tackle Marcus Danenhaur.
Pittman is replacing center Travis Swanson and left tackle David Hurd. He said it's too early to say too much about progress there.
"We lost two that played really well for us," Pittman said. "We think Skipper can slide out there, at tackle but the technique is different and he's got to learn that. For the first two days did he do it all correct? No, but he is learning it. I think it's the right spot for him.
"We are really pleased with Charpentier and Boyd. They both understand the playbook.
"We'll get a lot more done when we get to pads. I do think our centers did a nice job, but it's very early."
There were no representatives from the defense in the media room, but Brandon Allen provided a snapshot of what new coordinator Robb Smith has installed.
"You see a change," Allen said. "What is it, I think swagger is one way of describing it, confidence maybe.
"I think what you see on that side of the ball is the same through two days for the offense as far as improvement from last year, fewer mental errors. You don't see as many there, just like for us.
"The corners, it's a lot more press. Sometimes they press and bail. Sometimes they stay in it. There's a lot of press. It's not every look, but a lot for us. It gives us a much tougher look as far as the quarterbacks. It's tough on us and that's good. It's been a competitive situation for our wideouts."
Allen said he loves what he sees from the two newcomers at wide receiver from the signing class, junior college transfer Cody Hollister and true freshman Jared Cornelius.
"You have a possession receiver in Cody," Allen said. "And you have a guy with quickness and speed in Jared. They've done very well through two days."
Competition Intensifies at QB
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