State of the Hogs: Brandon Allen

Bret Bielema thinks Brandon Allen will make a big jump this season. Allen's work at the Manning Camp prompted favorable reports from Archie Manning.

Bret Bielema fielded questions about quarterback Brandon Allen's trip to the Manning Camp at a luncheon earlier this week.

It was clear that the Arkansas head coach enjoyed praising his fifth-year senior and two-time team captain. Bielema thinks Allen will have a great season.

The specific question from a fan concerned Allen's trip to the Manning Camp where 30 invited quarterbacks went through drills under the watch of Archie Manning and his two sons, Peyton and Eli, among others.

“It was pretty cool,” Bielema said. “Now I will say that quarterback is a unique animal. They get too much credit and too much blame. It's sort of like the head coach. So that's one of the reasons I bond with the quarterback.

“I always tell them as their coach, I will take every shot. I chose my profession and this comes with it. Quarterbacks didn't pick that part of it.”

So with all of the blame and torment sent Allen's way during the tough times over the last three seasons, Bielema is pleased to see the praise and accolades come his way now as the team around the Fayetteville product begins to mature.

“It's fun to see him get a little recognition,” Bielema said. “Archie called to ask about inviting him to the camp and I was pumped.”

Bielema said the camp goes along with the work Allen had done the previous summer at IMG Academy with Chris Weinke. Both Weinke and Archie Manning provided wonderful feedback to Bielema after working with Allen.

“I wanted Brandon to go see Chris,” Bielema said. “After he'd been there a few days, Chris called and said, 'This kid has got every throw in the book. His only trouble is with his footwork.' And, they worked on that and you saw the improvement last year.

“Fast forward to this summer, BA goes to the Manning Camp, but only for one and a half days because he was going to stand at AJ Derby's wedding. I joked with Brandon, 'Why do you care about AJ, he only caught three touchdowns last year?'

“Archie called after BA came back and told me what he thought. The report he gave me was that BA was one of the top five throwers there. He could make every throw, right left, long, short, all with great accuracy. Some of those that have been highly recognized were not nearly as good as BA.”

Bielema made the decision to send administrative assistant Bobby Allen, Brandon's father, to the camp, too.

“I think it was a great trip for the two of them,” Bielema said. “I know he was proud of Brandon.”

Bielema is proud of his quarterback, too. Allen passed for 2,285 yards, throwing 20 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He did not throw an interception in the spring and that covers all drills and scrimmages. He completed 56 percent of his passes last year, but coaches expect that number to jump this season under new coordinator Dan Enos and some new option routes for wideouts.

“I think he's going to make a big statement this season,” Bielema said.

There were also questions Wednesday about the defense.

“I spoke at a clinic last week in Texas,” he said. “There were stats presented about our defense at the end of the year when we were one of the nation's most effective defenses for four games and three of those were against ranked opponents. No, the other games count, too.

“But we became confident at the end of the year. Robb Smith kept things simple and we played faster. That's the number one way you become confident.”

Bielema continues to reference the 2015 defense as “the Bad News Bears,” a no-name unit that collectively will play well. He likes what he sees of the depth in the defensive line, something he's learned is critical in the fourth quarter of SEC games.

“That's what I saw after the first year in this league, the depth of the defensive lines,” he said. “You get to the fourth quarter, the good teams still have fresh defensive lines. I didn't see that in my previous league. It's the big difference in the SEC.”

The Hogs have that now, with as many as 10 defensive linemen prepared to play.

Martrell Spaight spoke on that depth on Sports Talk with Bo in an interview with Wes Moore on Thursday. Spaight is preparing for the Washington Redskins training camp after leading the SEC in tackles with 126 last season.

One thing to note, Spaight was able to play every meaningful snap, avoiding any injury that would take him off the field.

“There were a few games that we had a lead that the coaches subbed younger players, but I was out there until the end for most of them,” he said. “I wanted to be out there and I knew I was in condition to do it because of the work I'd put in with Ben Herbert.”

Does Spaight see some players capable of similar come throughs? Spaight was not on pre-season watch lists before his breakout campaign.

“I think there are young players on this team that are very talented just needing an opportunity,” he said. “I look at Khalia Hackett at middle linebacker and think he's ready to make a jump. He's got the size and speed and his preparation is there now, too. I saw this winter, spring and summer him at the facility late at night studying film and on the field working on his footwork.

“I know that Brooks Ellis knows weakside. He has played all three and is going to do very well there. He's got a lot of ability and does not make mistakes. He's a smart football player.

“I know there are a handful of others, too. Deatrich Wise just needs to stay healthy. He wasn't really full speed last year and still came in for some sacks at the end of the year. I think he's in great shape now and is ready to do some big things.

“I think the big kid, a freshman, from over seas is capable. He's aggressive, massive and has the ability to make plays. I'm talking about Hjalte Froholdt. Watch out for him.

“Really, I think this defense has the potential to be better than our defense of last year. I'm biased and think we were pretty good, but the coaches have been building talent and getting them ready. Some of these players may be better, they just didn't have the experience to play last year, but they do now. I'm going to be excited to watch them play.”

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