Arkansas Offensive Changes Abound

Both A.J. Derby and Damon "Duwop" Mitchell get work at spots other than quarterback and show promise in Arkansas' 101-play scrimmage on Saturday afternoon.

A lot of the news and activity at Saturday's Arkansas scrimmage involved quarterbacks – three are still signal callers, one who is now a full-time tight end and another who is unsure yet if he is on board with a position switch.

Starter Brandon Allen (17-of-25 for 157 yards, 5 TDs, 2 picks), younger brother Austin Allen (5-of-10 for 39 yards, TD) and true freshman Rafe Peavey (4-of-6 for 49 yards, 1 pick) got all the snaps in the 101-play scrimmage.

That's because redshirt senior A.J. Derby (6-5, 246) is now a full-time tight end and Arkansas is experimenting with redshirt freshman Damon Mitchell (6-2, 200) at wide receiver.

"One of the things that we said to them when we came back after (Spring) break was take a look at some guys, let's experiment and see if these other positions can work for us," Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. "Obviously I have been through this so long that there are guys that welcome it with open arms and guys who don't.

"Case in point is A.J. Derby," Bielema added. "He didn't want to hear last spring, he didn't want to hear it this fall. I don't think you could find a happier person on this earth right now than A.J. Derby. He is loving it. Everything is going and it is just the frame of mind.

"If Duwop (Mitchell) will wrap his arms around it, hug it up and kiss it, I think it would work very, very well," Bielema said. "If not, it's not going to work, I will help him whereever he needs to go or whatever he wants to do.

"I just want him to have success and that is the part that he has to understand," Bielema added.

The two moves were made as Brandon Allen has firmly established himself as the starter and the younger Allen and Peavey have shown potential.

"I think B.A. is our No. 1 quarterback," Bielema said. "That kind of separated itself from the time we had our last game to the time of our first two weeks of practice just felt B.A. really has to compete against the rest of the SEC. There isn't anybody at our program now that is to his level. So really trying to stress him and make him understand that.  We have got to get him to have to be uncomfortable. I want to really try to press him.

"With that being said, (Arkansas offensive coordinator) Jim (Chaney) really thought that if could get Austin and Rafe Peavey a lot of reps they could make a huge jump in the next three weeks. That prompted the conversation I had with AJ Derby."

Peavy is pushing Austin Allen for the number two spot and has had just two incompletions in the two scrimmages – although one of them went to the other team.

"If you were playing a game tomorrow, Austin would have the edge," Bielema said. "Just because he's said it, he's talked it. He's been in the huddle a little bit more. Doesn't obviously have a lot of experiences. But Rafe is a football junkie. He's a kid that learns very well. He can throw the football. You can see that. I would say that's kind of a day-by-day thing. Like I said, Austin really just has an edge because of time spent here."

Derby had 2 catches for 22 yards with an 8-yard touchdown reception – albeit he dropped what would have been a 59-yard bomb from Brandon Allen for what would have been another score.

"I had a meeting back in January with him (Derby) and said if he ever wants to do something else, either tight end or linebacker, I would love to talk to him," Bielema said. "I would love to give him an opportunity on some special teams stuff. He didn't want to hear it.

"I will give him a lot of credit - I brought him in on Monday and I said, 'Hey, here is where are at. Why don't you give me two weeks? Try tight end for two weeks and see where it goes.' And he came out Tuesday and was incredible. Thursday was much of the same. Today when he dropped that pass that was really the first - I think it's the first drop  he had in team situations. He just has been catching everything. So hopefully it was just something he had to go through there on that specific play."

Mitchell had a catch for 28 yards during his snaps at wide receiver and also lined up at tailback and carried the ball twice for 10 yards.

"When I sit down with him (Mitchell) I said 'here's the deal' you can stay at quarterback, you can switch to wide receiver, running back or go to defensive back,'" Bielema said.

"Myself, I told him flat out that I think the best thing you could do is go to safety," Bielema added. "I think you could turn into an incredible defensive back – a great safety just from what I have learned over the years of doing it.

"I said the easiest transition would probably be wide receiver so we put him there and he looked really good on Tuesday," Bielema continued. "He didn't really love it and he is having a tough time. I get it. We are trying to get all of our players and all of our coaches to love them up and keep moving in the right direction. Hopefully we do that."

Bielema sees a player he wants to get on the field in some fashion.

"I think he brings – if he is able to make this move – he is an incredibly explosive athlete, he is very talented, he runs very, very strong," Bielema said. "On that screen play he got hit by a couple of guys and he didn't go down. He just kept his legs churning. He is a very special young man and I hope it works out."

Ironically, both Bielema and new Razorback defensive coordinator Robb Smith both recruited Mitchell as a safety for Wisconsin and Rutgers, respectively.

"We recruited him as a guy that we thought could play safety, but I did give him the option to play quarterback," Bielema said. " He didn't buy it, but it was mainly because (former Wisconsin and Arkansas defensive coordinator) Coach (Chris) Ash was recruiting him. I think that had to play into it.

"When we brought him here, (Arkansas offensive coordinator) Jim (Chaney) thought he had the ability to play here at quarterback and I did, too," Bielema added. "I told him we would give him every opportunity to do that and we have."

Mitchell was even back catching punts on Saturday.

"We obviously hadn't mixed him in there when he was playing quarterback but when we take the (green non-contact) jersey off of him and put on the red one," Bielema said, "I said absolutely you can go back there and run punt returns and kick returns and stuff he has done in the past.

"If this is the route he decides to go at wide receiver position, we could still definitely work a package for him at quarterback spot while he is playing wide receiver and we'll get the ball in his hands and love to have that in our system,"Bielema continued.

A reporter asked why wouldn't kids want to move if they could get on the field earlier.

"Welcome to my world," Bielema said. "To be quite honest, I love this aspect of my job. It is something that I really love. Ben Herbert and I were sitting there yesterday and he talked about a kid that did it at Wisconsin named Owen Daniels.

"My first experiment with this was a guy by the name of Dallas Clark – a lot of you probably know that name – and he was a linebacker in my room for two years," Bielema added. "When Kirk Ferentz came in, I said 'I gave got to be the worst linebacker coach in the country because this kid is the first one in every one of my drills, he is unbelievable in every fundamental we do, but I can't get him to read a guard to save my life. I can't get him to close and tackle on plays on defense. But I think he is really good and we should try him at tight end.

"The first year he is All-Big 10, the next year he is an All-American, he leaves early in the draft and is the highest-paid tight end in the history of the NFL," Bielema continued. "He didn't want to hear it, too, but he loved it.

"I can go around – Chris Maragos of the Seahawks was a wide receiver to safety, Travis Beckum was an outside linebacker to tight end. We know what players need at these positions, but sometimes they just don't want to hear it. And quarterbacks, as we know, are very, very intelligent and think they know everything and are resistant to change.

"But I think it is coming around," Bielema said. "We will try it for two weeks and see where it goes."

D'Arthur Cowan, a sophomore wide receiver who sit out the first part of spring practice to tend to academics, had 2 catches for 38 yards in his first scrimmage.

"Brought back D'Arthur Cowan," Bielema said. "Obviously some positives there. That wasn't medically related that was academically related. He earned his way back on the field each week. We meet Monday with a group of people who tell us where he is at. If he is moving forward, we let him practice on Thursday and Saturday."

Bielema was happy with what he saw in the scrimmage.

"As far as the scrimmage itself, we wanted to build off last week and put in the red zone goal this week during the course of the week and started off with a scripted scrimmage the first half," Bielema said. "We wanted to get 22 plays with the ones and 22 with the twos.  I thought there was a little bit of give and take on both sides of the ball.

"I do like the way our guys continue to compete so guys show up in critical downs which is very, very nice to see on both offense and defense," Bielama added. " We had some turnovers in the red zone. We can't have that. We can't give away points like that.

"On the flip side, it was a good job by the defense creating them," Bielema continued. "As we moved into the second half of the scrimmage when we went to move the ball we really tried to teach our guys field position. How many yards they gain on first down once they get a first down to convert it. Third and short, second and medium. All that stuff showed up. I thought those were a lot of positives."

Arkansas has now had 9 of his 15 allotted spring practices.

"I am happy where we are at," Bielema said. "This is obviously Week Three. We've got Week Four and Week Five in front of us. So we will change it up a little bit more this week. Give some opponents specific preparation for early games next fall and then we will jump into more of what we did the first two weeks the last week."

On the injury front, tailback Korliss Marshall was held out of the scrimmage for precautionary reasons, but should be full go next week.

"He basically had a day where he didn't feel well and we wanted to make sure everything was alright," Bielema said. "As you all know, player safety is a premium in my program. We are basically taking some steps with him to make sure everything was okay with him. We are being overly cautious. He had a procedure when he actually had stitches so if the stitches are healed up enough, he will be able to go on contact on Tuesday."

That gave junior Kody Walker – a 240-pound back - a chance to shine and he took advantage of it with 9 carries for 43 yards.

He worked at tailback on Saturday along with Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins and Denzel Evans.

"Quite honestly we'd been trying to stuff him into that fullback spot and he's been very impressive in practice," Bielema said. "I wouldn't say he's a burner, but he's got big speed, great speed for a big back. He's very powerful when he runs. You saw that today. I couldn't be more pleased with him.

" And to be quite honest, Denzel Evans showed some things today that were very impressive. We wanted to get J-Will some more reps, and Alex continued to get some. I give credit to Alex. He's been a little bit banged up. He has an ankle that's a little sore. He persevered through it, so it was nice to see him get through that.

He ran behind an offensive line that Bielema said is improving and pointed to left tackle Dan Skipper and right tackle Brey Cook.

"You know, Skip's gotten better and better each day," Bielema said. "The one thing I like about him is, it couldn't be any more important to him than the daily grind of film and what you do away from the game and all that stuff. He's gotten better. I think we need to continue to work on his punch and pass. I think that's his biggest thing.

"… Brey Cook is playing as good a football as I've seen him play," Bielema added. "I'm very impressed with Brey. He's by far their leader. We elected our Hog Council last night and I announced it today. It's two players at every position. Brey is a guy that's going to lead that O-Line group and I think is a great example."

Bielema also announced that Kelvin Fisher is no longer working out with the team after stints at running back and cornerback.

"He was out there on the sidelines," Bielema said. "Yeah, Kelvin is actually graduating this semester so he'll be able to go somewhere and have two years of eligibility. We're helping him through that right now. So, yeah, he's not technically with us on the field. But he's in school."

Arkansas also worked Cordale Boyd at guard and Mitch Smothers at center behind starter Luke Charpentier.

"Yeah, you know, we dabbled around a little bit last week with Mitch at center," Bielema said. And this week we kind of moved him there full time and let him and Luke battle it out. Obviously, whenever you're switching centers with the No. 1 quarterback, you're going to have some center exchange issues. So I'm not happy with it, but there's going to be some issues just because they keep going back and forth. They both have some strengths. They both have some weaknesses. We'll see where we're at after two more weeks."

Boyd and Grady Ollison are battling at guard now.

I called Grady this morning," Bielema said. "I worked out a little deal with him that I wasn't going to let him run with the ones just because I was a little disappointed in some of the decisions that he was making. He's responded very well.

"He's had a couple of great weeks of practice and has been really good off the field," Bielema added. "We basically called him this morning and I said 'If I let you run with the ones are we going to see good Grady or bad Grady?' He said you're going to see good Grady coach. And I think he played fairly well today. He's a very talented player. He's got the world by the - in his hands and hopefully he's going to continue to grow.

"Cordale, I think he's got to be a utility guy," Bielema continued. "He hasn't grown into that just I can grab this spot and hang on to it. A little bit of center, a little bit of guard, at both right and left."

A.J Derby

Damon "Duwop" Mitchell

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