State of the Hogs: Greatness

It's clear what Bret Bielema has planned for Brandon Allen for his senior season. He thinks the Hogs may have an elite level quarterback.

It's been clear for the last two years that there was no one at Arkansas to challenge Brandon Allen for the starting quarterback job. That hasn't changed.

But what may be changing is what Allen might become for his last year as the leader of the Arkansas football team. Perhaps Allen is about to become an elite level quarterback.

Bret Bielema is sure that his starting quarterback for his third straight season as UA head coach will be Allen, the fifth-year senior from Fayetteville. Allen was a 56 percent passer with 20 touchdowns against just five interceptions last year as a junior. He's not thrown an interception in two spring scrimmages.

Allen was sharp on Saturday, again showing growth in a top level scrimmage under new offensive coordinator Dan Enos. There was only one chance for a interception when Henre' Toliver flashed for a ball that was ultimately caught by Jared Cornelius for a 25-yard gain.

I asked Bielema after the scrimmage for an overall assessment of Allen's spring under Enos and the development he's seen with a new quarterbacks coach.

“I had a one-on-one with Dan Enos on Wednesday post practice. Dan just continues to be amazed at the ability BA has on recall of certain things, a very, very live arm, very accurate, very detailed.

“Again, I challenged (Allen) big time, he's got to compete against the rest of the SEC. There is no other quarterback here that is in his ball park. He needs to press himself to be the best in the SEC because he's capable of doing that. He's got all the tools, he's got all of the tools. He's got all the experience. He's got good players around him.

"He's got a very, very good football coach around him telling him what to do and giving him a plan to be successful – that's not me, it's Coach Enos – and it's going to be fun to watch his growth. He's playing like a fifth-year senior should be.”

In a follow-up question to Bielema away from the podium, I asked what has changed about Allen this spring.

"It's the details with his footwork," Bielema said. "He's much more accurate. He's got better balance in his footwork day by day. You see what Dan has done with him and it's very good. I think Brandon is VERY talented.

"It's been a lot of fun to watch what's happening. I think it's going to be fun watching him in the fall. I think he's a very good player."

This is not just a head coach trying to build confidence in a player. It's the real deal starting to emerge as an elite quarterback.

I think Enos has special plans for Allen. You can see quicker decisions. You can see a heightened awareness that he is a gifted runner. There were two situations where Allen scoped out man coverage and quickly tucked the ball and ducked into a soft middle for big gainers. One of them was ruled a touchdown, although Bielema said the defense protested.

"You would have to have a replay," Bielema said. "The defense thought they got there in time, but didn't hit him. I will just say that Brandon made a very good play."

The offense was handicapped throughout the scrimmage with most of the top players not in use. Jonathan Williams did not scrimmage. Alex Collins was in for about 15 plays before getting an early hook for the second straight weekend. Tight end Hunter Henry was pulled after about one third of the scrimmage.

What is obvious is that Jeremy Sprinkle is going to be one of the Hogs' best players. He's got great speed at tight end. Now, at 250, he's a tough matchup as a blocker, too.

"Some probably don't notice it, but he's better at the line of scrimmage," Bielema said. "I think he's a very tough matchup in all areas."

Tight ends coach Barry Lunney said earlier in the spring that Enos continues to express true appreciation for both Henry and Sprinkle and promises to use them more this year than what he's seen on tape. I thought the Hogs might really miss A.J. Derby, but not now. Sprinkle is coming on and could be a great player -- not just good.

"I'm lucky that I'm coaching these guys," Lunney said. "They are experienced now and very talented. Henry and Sprinkle make me a very good coach. Coach Enos is in love with both of them. And we are also lucky that our head coach appreciates and wants to use tight ends."

The wide receivers appear to be making a move. Eric Hawkins had his second straight scrimmage without a drop. If he's a threat, the Hogs may be in business because he's easily the fastest player on the team.

Hatcher appears to be quicker and stronger. He may be a tad lighter this spring. He's ability to get off the line appears to be better.

It's not like the offense just blows up the defense. There are tough battles that both sides win at times. Secondary coverage is salty and that will be a strength going forward. I was disappointed not to get another look at Santos Ramirez on Saturday. The redshirt freshman safety is a big-time player, but he was out with a stomach bug.

The battles in the offensive and defensive line are top shelf. There is more depth in those two areas than I can remember in a long time at Arkansas. The second offensive line is still learning its trade, but the second defensive front is superb and will play.

It's a treat to see the third down packages on defense that include a front four of Jeremiah Ledbetter, Deatrich Wise, Taiwan Johnson and Tevin Beanum. That's speed and athletic ability in a big, lethal unit. Nickel back Henre' Toliver looks like a sure thing as Tevin Mitchel's replacement.

There were just so many positives to note from Saturday's scrimmage, including a hint of a battle at placekicker with a come through at the end of the day from redshirt freshman Cole Hedlund. All three of the placekickers got a chance at a 59-yarder. Hedlund was last and split the uprights with really only a hint of a breeze on a spectacular 65-degree morning.

That was enough for Bielema to end the day, then reading off a long list of his personal highlights to his team, taking a knee around him. They produced a single clap for each note on Bielema's clipboard. It was clear that they felt good about their work day. So did their head coach, now convinced he's got the man, senior Brandon Allen, to lead the Hogs to something great.

Here are the tackle numbers from the scrimmage Saturday:

TACKLES--Khalia Hackett 11, Josh Harris 11, Brooks Ellis 9, Josh Williams 9, Josh Liddell 7, Reid Miller 7, Deatrich Wise 6, Randy Ramsey 6, Dwayne Eugene 6, Taiwan Johnson 5, Armon Watts 5, Teavin Beanum 4, Rohan Gaines 4, D.J. Dean 4, Jared Collins 4, Ryder Lucas 4.

TACKLE FOR LOSS--Deatrich Wise 4-27, Armon Watts 3-19, Karl Roesler 3-19, Jeremiah Ledbetter 2-11, Josh Williams 2-9, Tevin Beanum 2-7, Josh Harris 1-6, Ke'Tyrus Marks 1-4, Khalia Hackett 1-4, Teavin Beanum 1-1.

SACKS--Deatrich Wise 4-27, Armon Watts 3-19, Karl Roesler 3-19, Jeremiah Ledbetter 2-11, Teavin Beanum 1-7, Josh Williams 1-6, Khalia Hackett 1-4.

PASS BREAKUP--DeAndre Coley 2, D.J. Dean 1, Dwayne Eugene 1, Reid Miller 1, Matt Dodson 1.

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