When he was asked Sunday what he wanted fans to be saying about the Arkansas offense after the first three games this season, Razorback offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had a very simple answer.
“I hope that they see a team that is playing a little harder, executing a little more efficiently, really being successful in critical areas of the field,” Chaney said. “Those basic little things. I think you will see a more polished passing game than you did last season. I am seeing it on the practice field so I believe you will this upcoming season.”
Chaney knows the criticism from a 3-9 season and an offense that failed to have big plays were warranted, but also knows that he had a quarterback in Brandon Allen that couldn't practice but one day a week and didn't have as much help as he needed to be successful.
“I wish it had been the first time that I had gone through a tough season, but unfortunately every year has its little blemishes,” Chaney said. “There is always something going on. Last year we had a few of them that we didn't handle very well. Hopefully when adversity hits us this year, we will handle it a little bit better.
“Anytime you have a returning starting quarterback, that is the first thing. I think that always helps you in a lot of ways. I know Brandon feels a lot more confident than he ever has in playing in our offense and that's a good thing. You always like that. We have a young, tough bunch playing in the offensive line and returning running backs that are pretty good players. We feel really talented at tight end so we are feeling pretty good about ourselves and we just have to go prove it now.”
Chaney, whose team got back to practice Monday morning after a Sunday away from the practice field, sees improvement in both Allen's feet and his eyes.
“It's rhythm in the passing game,” Chaney said. “His eyes are where they need to be and the ball is coming out on time. When a quarterback is not sure and there is doubt what he should be doing based on progression and based on coverage, they tend to go slow and be too late. He is not late now. He is getting the ball out on time and he looks pretty good.”
It also helps to have more numbers and speed at the receiver spots.
“If you drop it, you get to the back of the line now,” Chaney said. “When we throw it to you, your job is to catch the ball. So there is a lot of competitive spirit going on in that room. If you not making the play, somebody else is stepping up and getting it done right now. We are going to play the kids that are above the line. How many is that. Is there eight of them we feel like we can go win with or is there four of them? We don't know yet, but we are hoping to get as close to eight as we before the first game, but if it ends up being four that we feel real comfortable with, then that is what we go with.”
Allen went to a camp in Florida this summer to work with former Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke.
“Weinke knows that he is doing and he is a good football coach,” Chaney said. “I think he helped him a lot on some of his base issues that he was having. If anything it spurred more confidence in the quarterback. He can identify some issues that he needed to work with. I think sometimes it is good to hear it from somebody else and he got the luxury in doing that. I think he has benefitted from that.”
The Arkansas offense continued its installation during its Monday morning practice – the first of two workouts on the day with the night practice to focus on special teams.
“It went pretty good,” Chaney said. “We installed some new parts as we went through the installation. We are getting closer to having all the situational parts of the offense installed today. We threw goal-line at them and that was good to see.
“I thought they responded good from the day off. I thought B.A. had a really good live ball today throwing it around that was good to see. And we finished with some two-minute drills.
“When you are really tired and run the 2-minute drill that's the only time to practice. We have a lot of work to do on that. We are not where we need to be with the details of the 2-minute drill but for the most part the fellows went out and performed today. After a day off you always interested in the leadership getting the team going and they did.”
• • •
Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman kept his same names on the starting offensive line that ended the first week as the second week of workouts got underway.
“No changes. We have got guys playing pretty well with the twos, but no changes at this point,” Pittman said. “We still have a few more days to figure it all out, but I am pleased with who is playing with the ones.”
The Razorbacks will play as many offensive lineman in the opener at Auburn as Pittman feels are ready.
“I would if I felt like we could win the game with whoever I put in,” Pittman said. “We would want to keep fresh guys. So if I feel like we are going into that game with seven or eight guys we can win the game with they will probably because of the potential of the heat.
“The young guys you have to get them out there to see how they are going to do. But the older guys, if it is close, we will play them. Certainly I am not going to punish a guy that is that much better than somebody else. I am not going to take him off the field and punish the team, punish the fans, punish everybody – I am not doing that. But if it is close, a fresh player is going to be better than a guy that is fatigued.”
Freshman Frank Ragnow is working as the second-team center – a spot he never played in high school.
“I don't know if it is so much the center spot as it is coming from high school to college,” Pittman said. “It is just so different. The challenges that he had at center were understanding blitz rotations and he has gotten a lot better at that. The snapping seems to come pretty familiar, pretty easy for him. You can either snap and move or you can't and he could so that part came pretty simple for him. Just looking for rotations now.”
Newcomers Cameron Jefferson and Sebastian Tretola have worked a few reps at center, but will stick to others spots this week.
“We have worked both of them, we just haven't given them any live reps yet,” Pittman said. “This week probably not. It just depends. You hate to play a kid - who is just trying to learn the offense – a bunch of different positions. The one thing you have to be is confident and if you start moving around and you start questioning yourself all the time than you can't play fast, you can't play physical. So probably not this week a lot of movement.”
Brian Wallace, another true freshman, got reps as the second-team right tackle on Monday morning.
“I saw a little bit more than I have seen so I will have to watch the film,” Pittman said. “But he is very long and very talented. Obviously he is struggling a little bit with learning the playbook. The only way you can learn it is to rep it. Today he finally got half the reps out there. I think he is going to be a good player for us and we will just wait around and see what happens. But we do think he is talented enough to play this year.”
Pittman said last week that Wallace was like a colt in that his feet were everywhere.
“He still is gangly and his feet are live and he is going around everywhere, but he is a little bit more now under control,” Pittman said. “His upper body has slowed down a little bit. But it is hard – a guy who has feet like – to slow him down. I think we are in pretty good shape with him. He is learning and picking it up pretty quickly.”
There were eight sacks given up by the offensive line during Saturday's scrimmage, but Pittman was quick to point out that only one of those came against the first team.
“The ones protected the quarterback well,” Pittman said. “We had a bust on one protection with the ones, but those sacks were with the twos – most of that. Certainly we have to get better with those guys, but right now they are not the ones that are going to be on the field on Saturday.”
Pittman praised his team's run blocking in the scrimmage.
“We didn't have any explosive runs – 9, 10, 12-yard runs something like that, but we efficiency we were really high on high on four yards or more and we didn't run a whole lot of outside plays,” Pittman said. “We were trying to get that inside push on them. We were really pleased with our fits and our leg drive – with the ones, especially.”
• • •
Arkansas receivers coach Michael Smith was among the many people impressed with Drew Morgan's performance in the scrimmage. He had 6 catches for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“I thought the guy did some really good things, “ Smith said. “He had a really good week catching he ball well, running and being creative. He's doing some great things for us.”
Smith believes he has five receivers he can definitely count on now, but thinks true freshman Kendrick Edwards (6-6, 180) is pushing to make that six.
“It's a blend (of size and speed),” Smith said. “ You have got a kid that is 6-6 that is real smooth that has the ability to catch the ball really natural. He has a good demeanor about him, has picked up what we have put on his plate pretty well. And he just brings a different dimension that we haven't had since Coach B and myself have been here.”
Asked if he was comfortable with the speed of the group now, Smith hedged a bit.
“I wouldn't want to say comfortable,” Smith said. “ I am satisfied with it. We have what we have and we have to do as coaches to put those kids in positions to be successful. With the way Jim is calling right now and the way B.A. is running the offense, I do feel confident as far as that is concerned.”
Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry makes a catch during Saturday's practice.
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