State of the Hogs: The MVP Question

Who is the MVP of the Arkansas football team? That seemed to be the question after Jonathan Williams came to the interview room Thursday. Plus, wide receiver Dominque Reed has stepped up in the last week of practice and drew praise from Bret Bielema, Robb Smith and Dan Enos.

There's always the question about who are the most valuable players of the team. How about this Arkansas football team? That hit my mind as Jonathan Williams addressed the media for the first time after undergoing surgery to repair a torn foot ligament and could miss the entire season.

Williams didn't answer that question directly, but in his remarks about the injury and what seems like solid depth at running back, it seemed obvious.

About the running back group of Alex Collins and Kody Walker, the man everyone calls JWill said, "They can be as good as any tandem in the country. I'd rather it be me (that's injured) instead of Brandon Allen. We have the best running back group in the country."

Head coach Bret Bielema followed JWill to the interview room. He seemed to understand his senior running back's sentiments, but didn't jump quite that high. He said the improved depth at quarterback with Austin Allen emerging as a fine backup to older brother Brandon Allen made it worth a discussion.

"On the flip side," Bielema said, "we don't have the quality depth at all positions we have at quarterback. There is not anybody I'm more comfortable with than I am with Austin.

"I understand who JWill is and why he would say that, but Austin is very close to Brandon."

It's clear after also talking to defensive coordinator Robb Smith and offensive coordinator Dan Enos that Reed has turned some heads this week. Bielema said Reed's work this week has been stellar. Smith said it's been great for the defense to see a wideout with superior speed "who can take the top off of a defense" and cause a "matchup problem" at cornerback. Enos said, "He's been really good this week."

Reed has displayed "a sense of urgency" this week, according to Enos.

"His God-given ability is obvious," Enos said. "He's learned the offense very well. He's not out there asking questions."

A big question asked of Bielema, how does this team compare to some of his championship squads at Wisconsin?

“I feel very confident," the head coach said, "in the fact that since I have been here, we have got the most depth in the defensive line, which I think if you check my history…and you guys have asked me what is the biggest difference in the two conferences, the D-line depth is a big part of it.
“It is not just one or two or three guys, it is the ability to roll through eight to 10 D-linemen in the course of a game. Of course we always want to get better, but we have got some talented players in the two-deep on the defensive side of the ball.
“I think we are still overly thin at linebacker, I think we are still overly thin at offensive line of guys that can maybe step in and play at a winning level in the SEC. So you have always been a little bit concerned there. 
“I feel very good where we are offensively at the wide receiver and tight end. We have to figure out which guys make the best impact and who could fill the biggest voids.
“Dominique Reed has just had an outstanding last two days of practice. I just think he continues to climb of the charts. Keon Hatcher looks good.
“Defensively, I am excited to see them get out on the field and play. I think we are talented in the back end and I really like our defensive staff. I think it is the best defensive staff that I have had with everybody working together and all on the same page. They all have a common goal and they like what we are playing. So it is kind of fun to be around that.”
Enos was complimentary of the ability at the running back position. He was asked specifically if Williams can handle the duties of an every-play back, mainly where pass protections come into play. That can be tough for a freshman, right?

"I think if you had a normal freshman, yeah," Enos said. "With Rawleigh, probably not. He's remarkable, actually, with how fast he's picked up things. Not just in the run game, but in the pass game. He's a very mature, very intelligent young man.

"I think he'll be able to handle it. I know if we were playing today, we'd certainly put him out there in run and pass situations and let him play. Certainly Kody Walker and Alex Collins are very, very well seasoned in that area, but we certainly think Rawleigh will be able to handle that.

Can Walker play at 260?

"He looks great," Enos said. "He looks explosive. In our second scrimmage where obviously Jonathan and Alex didn't participate, Kody was in there, and especially early in that scrimmage when you turn the tape on, you see a guy get the ball and you see him accelerate and you see him break tackles and fall forward.

"He's had a really good camp. He's catching the ball, he's blocking well, and he's in really good condition. He's been very, very good. Since I've been here through the spring, I've been kind of singing his praises. He's a really, really good football paler and I think presents some different challenges for teams we're going to play."

Enos drew questions about Austin Allen's rise to the clear backup quarterback slot. He has been called a gamer. So how have his practices improved?

"I always tell those guys that it's kind of an old wive's tale that he's a gamer you know..cause if you don't ever do it in practice people dont trust you enough or have the confidence enough to see if you are a gamer," Enos said. "So he has been really good in practice. I think maybe some of the knocks before when he was young were that he was really inconsistent, which again is pretty common for a lot of young players that inconsistencey level.

"But since I've been with him you know we've certainly not been perfect, but I've seen a maturity and focus to him. I've seen him make a negative play early in practice. You know that's always interesting for me to see how a QB will respond to a negative play early and how they react to that the remainder of the practice and he's gone through that and he's come out of it pretty good. He's been mature. He's been foucesd.

"He has had a good demeanor and he has done things in practice. Even in the last couple weeks when we've put him in periods with the two offense versus the first defense, which is really difficult because you have a lot of young players and you are going against pretty much seasoned veterans with a really good scheme and guys are well coached.

"He's been very poised and he is functioning under the circumstances at a really good level. He has had a good camp, has to continue to improve in a lot of areas. I think the arm has gotten strong. We did some things with him in the summer to improve his arm speed and his arm strength and again I think that goes along with being mature and growing and being in the weight program and everything. He really took a vested interest in coach Ben (Herbert) and what they are doing in the weight room, nutrition and strength wise. And I think you've kind of seen it throughout his entire came. Which has been a real positive for him and also for other players on our team to see that."

USC transfer Ricky Towns was added to the roster this week. Enos was in favor of jumping from four to five quarterbacks on scholarship. So it was clear that Enos wanted another quarterback.

"Since I've been here Coach (Bielema) and I have had plenty of discussions about having another QB on scholarship," Enos said. "I think coaches kind of like to have five and I kind of like that number as well. We obviously didn't want to force the issue.

"This is something that obviously wasn't planned or anything, but when the oppurtunity presented itself, we looked into it really deeply as best we could in that short amount of time. As always you try and do what's best for the entire organaztion and we felt at this time it would be good to add Ricky.

"As I told other QBs..no promises are ever made to anybody about whatever, you have to earn everything you get around here and he'll certainly have to do that. We're certainly excited he is here, and I'm excited just to have another guy just to have in the room and work with and develop. That's a position like O-line you got to develop guys. Have to constantly be developing players there. If you have one or two that's good.

"We want to have four or five that can play, that we feel good about. You like to have them spaced out and certainly in a perfect world we would have that, but again we were in a sitiuation where we had this oppurtunity and we thought it'd be best for everybody in the program if we do it."

There were thoughts about the last scrimmage and a pick six thrown by Brandon Allen on a screen pass. Enos broke down some of the issues with what goes into calling a screen, an obvious part of his system.

"Again you go against each other everyday you get used to seeing a lot of the same things," Enos said. "Screen passes are designed, really there are a lot of different reasons why you do them. You do it slow people down. You do it to attack blitzing teams.

"You do it to attack certain defenders who love to get after the passer and try and get them worrried about re-tracing or a back coming out then they're obviously not worried about rushing the passer. So mission accomplished there even if your not throwing a screen so there are a lot of different beneifts from them. They are part of the game, just cause you call one doesnt mean its going to work. You have to execute it. You have to call it at the right time and when it does present itself we got to take it and when its not we have to throw it away and live to see the next down."

There is still a few days of preseason left, but Bielema is rapidly coming up with a list of who is going to play from the newcomers and who is going to redshirt. He quickly zipped through the freshmen not on the redshirt list right now.

“Monday, I think I will be able to give you a more extensive one," Bielema said, "but starting from upfront to the back, I don’t think there is anybody but Hjalte Froholdt that will play. Hjalte came in January and I think he is full go, full speed ahead.
“There is a chance to T.J. Smith to play a little bit, but that is kind of down the line.
“At the linebacker position, Dre Greenlaw will play without a doubt. He is very, very incorporated, not only in our defense, but in special teams.
“In the back end, Willie Sykes and Ryan Pulley will both play and that is probably it on defense.
“Offensively, I think up front Josh Allen will play without a doubt, a guy that came in during January that will play in the mix.
“At tight end, there is a chance for Austin Cantrell and at running back without a doubt Rawleigh Williams is fully ingrained and full speed ahead without a doubt.
“At the wide receiver, I don’t think any of the true freshman, but Dominique Reed will play as a wide receiver.
“And there are several guys who were redshirted a year ago that will play like a Santos Ramirez and those guys.
“That is what is fun, that we truly are a developmental program and those guys that have been waiting in the wing like Brian Wallace, who without a doubt has his best two weeks of practice he has had since we have been here.
“We might experiment a little bit with moving some people around. If he is at right tackle, we can move Skip inside and have depth with Frank at center and Mitch. If you could get another one or two offensive linemen playing at a high level in the SEC, that is only going to help you.”

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