It’s normal that the defense is ahead of the offense in early scrimmages and that certainly was the case Saturday in Arkansas’ first big scrimmage of the preseason.
While the offense did have some explosive plays from tailbacks Alex Collins and Rawleigh Williams and wide receivers JoJo Robinson and Dominique Reed in the 117-play effort, it was the defenders that ruled the day at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The first-team Arkansas defense harassed starting quarterback Brandon Allen into a 10-for-23 day passing for 108 yards with one interception.
“Defensively the story of the camp, I haven't really mentioned it, they want to make a big deal out of our offensive line and what-not, but I can't say enough about our D-line growth and progression and the depth that we got there,” Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said.
“I think that's going to be a highlight of hopefully some things to come. Some guys are playing strong up front which I think affected us early on. Some guys were in B.A.'s lap early on that were causing a little bit of pressure. We have to catch the ball a little bit more effectively but we have got a lot of guys and a lot of time between now and then.”
Arkansas is exactly three weeks away from its 2:30 p.m. season opener with visiting UTEP at the same site the Razorbacks went through Saturday’s scrimmage, which started at the exact time the season opener will kickoff.
Rawleigh Williams, the freshman tailback, led the way on the ground for Arkansas with 13 carries for 102 yards with one being a 63-yard touchdown dash.
Junior Alex Collins had a 43-yard touchdown scamper while piling up 72 yards on six carries while Jonathan Williams had 11 carries for 72 yards with a fumble before exiting with an ankle injury.
“Offensively you can see we have a lot of guys that can run the football,” Bielema said. “J. Will, I don't exactly know what happened there at the end but he had a tender ankle. I don't know where that is going to go from this point forward. We obviously know he can play a lot of good football.
“If not, Alex is more than capable. He made a nice cut there at the end and probably has had his most productive camp by far. He's leaner, he's quicker, he's faster. He has really been pretty good overall. I thought he has really done a nice job in fall camp.
“And Rawleigh Williams, No. 22, is obviously a very special player. Him and Kody Walker bring a nice change of place coming off the bench. They add a lot of variety to your running game.
Allen was credited with an interception, but in truth cornerback Jared Collins took the ball away from Damon Mitchell.
Allen had a bad day after having what has been described as a sparkling week of practices that included just one interception.
“I think B.A. in the throwing game he started off high on the one bootleg and then low but then kind of came to pace a little bit,” Bielema said.
“One thing that happened with him we are throwing a lot of different wide receivers. We'll settle in on probably our top five or six wide receivers and those guys will work exclusively with our ones and get a lot of feel for our routes and where the ball needs to be delivered.”
Austin Allen, Brandon Allen’s younger brother, was 11-of-15 passing for 144 yards and a touchdown against the second team defense, but also had an errant pass that freshman Ryan Pulley picked off and returned 41 yards for a score.
Bielema scoffed at a reporter’s notion that the younger Allen might overtake the older one.
“Austin’s improved, but he’s the one that threw the pick six to Pulley if I am not mistaken,” Bielema said. “This wasn’t Brandon’s best day. He has some really impressive days.
“…We haven’t had a lot of (contact on the quarterbacks), and I think it starts with me, we are so ‘stay away from the green (quarterback practice jersey), stay away from the green.’ There was some pressure in his face today that was probably good for us in the long run, especially how he played in the second half.
“…BA is our guy. But I am happy that you could even begin to think that. That means it is a good thing.
“I thought Rafe did some good things quite honestly. We can show a lot on it, but the word of the week next week will be consistency.”
Brandon Allen was missing top receiver Keon Hatcher, who was held out for precautionary reasons.
“Keon Hatcher just bruised the front of his shoulder the other day. He got his feet tangled up with I think D.J. Dean on a a go route and kind of fell down and hit the front part of his shoulder so we really didn't want to have him in contact.
“Let that calm down and heal up. He should be full go with us Monday. He could have went today, I just wanted to see the rest of those guys today.”
Some of the young guys who stood on defense, included linebackers Dre Greenlaw, Pulley and Ramirez, a redshirt safety - all of whom are running second team.
Greenlaw was a safety in high school at Fayetteville High, but has made a seamless tradition to linebacker.
“I said it when we signed him, Dre Greenlaw was a kid that is one of those classic Arkansas stories,” Bielema said. “He played safety, but we project him at safety and he doesn’t necessarily want to hear it.
“I remember a month out from camp I finally just had to bring him in and say ‘listen, brother, you are going to play linebacker. That is what it is.’
“Now he weighs 231 pounds. I gave him a hard time because I was following him in the hallway and his britches look like they were going to split. He was still wearing in his DB shorts, his Fayetteville High shorts.
“He is just instinctive and powerful. There was a play there in that last series where he took a guy on a routine tackle and sent him three feet in the air.
“I called his dad the other day - Brian Early is of course is (an assistant)…at Arkansas State - and I just said you would be you would be a proud dad to really watch your son play. He was really flying around out there and fun to watch him play.”
Pulley has shown great coverage ability early on in camp and broke on Austin Allen’s pass and took it to the house.
“I think the ball sailed on Austin to begin with, but Pulley has been impressive guy in camp,” Bielema said. “On film, he was a guy that showed up repeatedly making big plays. He has big hands and really long arms.
“I call him Old Man Pulley. He kind of walks like he is aging and decrepit, but on the field, I really, really like what he is bringing. He is definitely a solid two for us.
Pulley joins starters D J Dean and Jared Collins, Henri Toliver and Cornelius Floyd in giving Arkansas five solid cornerbacks.
“I have never been in a position where we have three solid starters at corner and now we add him in there and Cornelius Floyd has had a really good camp as well. That is five deep at corner, which is a nice position to be in.”
Ramirez delivered the scrimmage’s hardest hits, including one that separated Jonathan Williams from the football.
“Yeah, but he missed on that big long run, too,” Bielema said of Collins’ touchdown. “Santos is kind of a neat story. He played corner in high school. He obviously is built like a Greek God. He looks like you are supposed to look.
“We wanted to play him last year, but he had a pretty severe hamstring pull that took a long time to recover. We almost played him in game six, but he pulled it again in pre game warm ups. He is a kid that just reps and reps and reps and reps.
“He is a redshirt guy. You forget about those guys that come in and redshirt. They are ready to play. I think he could be a valuable member to us not only defensively, but on special teams.”
Robinson is also a redshirt freshman that showed off his speed and play-making ability late in the scrimmage when he juked Ramirez and then outran everybody else to the end zone.
Reed made an unbelievable catch over a defender that was ruled out of bounds, but came back with a burst on a slant.
“I do think this group - kind of even more so you saw today than we ever had in the past - we are potentially a big play offense and defense,” Bielema said.
“Maybe we don’t have to be so methodical as we have been. We have got some guys - Alex being one of them, JoJo being one of them, 87 (Reed) never got to put his foot in the ground and go, but you saw him kind of take off when he cut against the grain a little bit.
“We have got some guys that can turn a routine play into something special and that’s what can win more so in the SEC than just the methodical approach down the field.”
Jared Cornelius led the receivers with four catches for 70 yards while Drew Morgan had four receptions for 56 yards, Robinson had three catches for 46 yards and Reed had three for 42 yards.
“It’ll be a good discussion tomorrow,” Bielema said. “We have a big personnel meeting tomorrow. We’re going to grade that film now. We’ll be together. Meet with the team at 7 tomorrow morning. We’l have a healthy discussion among the staff.
“Obviously Keon’s our war daddy, he’s a guy to go to battle with. I think 87’s a very good player. I think Drew Morgan continues to do good things. Duwop (Damon Mitchell) is probably been one of the biggest surprises of camp. Jared Cornelius obviously. Cody Hollister.
“I know I’m forgetting a couple guys. Jojo Robinson made a huge play on the slant route turns it into seven. We got a lot of really talented players and we’ve got to begin to groove them, tae the reps, put them in position we’re going to put them in and go.”
Bielema reeled off the names of Rawleigh Williams, Greenlaw, Pulley, tight ends C.J. O’Grady and Austin Cantrell, offensive linemen Jalen Merrick and Josh Allen, cornerback Willie Sykes and receiver LaMicahel Pettway as true freshmen who could potentially play this season.
“When you meet them they’re very very mature,” Bielema said. “Rawleigh, when you’re raised in that home, I can pretty much guess you’ll be mature, anybody walking out of there. He carries his father’s name well, represents him well. Just every day it’s ‘yes, sir’ ‘no, sir.’
“This summer he was behind J-Will every moment. He was like J-Will’s tail. J-Will used to get, like, pissed at him and club him away.
“Pulley, he was a guy that’s really quiet in recruiting. I remember (secondary) Coach (Clay) Jennings didn’t know if he kidn of liked him on his trip. He was just so quiet. Now he’s one of the more liked guys on the team. Very into it.
“Dre, Mr. Fayetteville. He’s kind of like the Prince of Fayetteville. I had to calm him down the other way. He was way too social. He’s a very social media person. I give him and CJ (O’Grady) a lot of credit. They handled the last month very very well.
“CJ unfortunately kind of tweaked his foot the other day. He had a nice camp as well. Willie Sykes, I think has a chance to play for us and do a lot of things. I don’t know if anybody else on defense.
“Jalen Merrick, him and Josh Allen have a fair shot. Austin Cantrell. Rawleigh Williams. LaMichael Pettway’s actually shown some flashes and done some good things.
“(Freshman wideout) Deon Stewart, you’d like to play him, but I just think what he can be four years from now is going to be a little more special than the pint-sized you see right now. So I don’t know if we’ll go that route with as many wide receivers as we have.”
Asked about how many true freshman might play, Bielema said that that number would be decided in the coming days.
“I have never really set a number,” Bielema said. “A guy like (redshirt freshman offensive lineman) Brian Wallace, there might be a couple guys, too, if you remember B-Wall last year (as a true freshman) would go to ever game and rep as a number two and then if we had to in an emergency situation we would have played him.
“Fortunately we stayed pretty healthy through the course of the year and didn’t have to. There might be a guy or two in that boat as well as guys we just decide go ahead and throw them in there and let’s roll.”
Arkansas practiced hard on Friday after being sluggish on Thursday.
"One of the points I made to them is that in the 2015-16 football season is one opportunity," Bielema said. "It's made up of 12 opportunities, and of those 12 guaranteed opportunities you practice to make each one of them great. You can't go back and repeat any Saturday.
"But during the fall we can repeat practices. During fall camp we can repeat practices. That's what we did. We went back and repeated Thursday's practice. I was going to be a little bit lighter with them on Friday. I think a little bit of the slow start today was I practiced them pretty hard yesterday.
"It's hard to practice that way and then come back and play. … If you think about a game week, our last hard practice is on Wednesday. We go really light on Thursday and we don't do anything on Friday and we play on Saturday.
We practiced pretty hard yesterday, so I can kind of understand where they were coming from a little bit."
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