State of the Hogs: Some Wise Takeaways

Quarterback play was a strength in a major scrimmage, but it's some of the little things in field goal protection that jumped out. Here's a commentary from publisher Clay Henry.

The picture became a little brighter for the Arkansas football team on Saturday. There were some brilliant -- maybe even wise -- takeaways after what was probably the major scirmmage of the spring.

There is plenty of talent at quarterback to allow the Razorbacks to carry on without Brandon Allen. Austin Allen, Rafe Peavey and even Ty Storey did some wonderful things at quarterback. There were some issues with the center snap, but less with Allen than the others.

The offensive line looks better with their run blocking without Sam Pittman. That may be a bit harsh, but it's clear that new offensive line coach Kurt Anderson has a rebuild headed in the right direction. Kody Walker and Damon "Duwop" Mitchell both had sparkling plays in the running game behind solid blocking.

The defense still had its good moments to end the second week of spring drills, but not so many when Brooks Ellis and Deatrich Wise were not on the field in the second half of the scrimmage. Wise, starting rush end, looks to be a special talent and perhaps the best player on the field at times. Ellis is the four-year starter at middle linebacker. If ever two players looked like senior captains, it was Wise and Ellis on Saturday.

The scrimmage went over 100 plays. Aside from center snap issues, there was only one turnover, a throw from Peavey (intercepted by Dwayne Eugene) that may have been a sack before it was thrown.

Among the highlights was perfect execution in the kicking game, especially the placement area. There's a new twist to the protection on field goals. Wise and JaMichael Winston, both physical defensive ends with long arms, are the wing backs on the protection unit. That is a change from last year when tight ends filled that spot.

Head coach Bret Bielema said that's a matter of analyzing what went wrong in last year's scheme and making radical changes to the unit that was under Pittman, last year's O-line coach.

"We work on protection every day and have meetings every day," Bielema said of the spring work on field goal protection. "We've changed it. Kurt is in charge and it's a matter of him getting anything he wants. He wanted length with those wing backs. We've changed our stance, our protections. It's been a major point of emphasis. There wasn't enough emphasis last year."

The Hogs have been healthy through seven days of practice. Sophomore Brian Wallace, converted from offensive tackle to guard, sat out his second day of practice because of concussion protocol. He'll return on Monday.

Defensive end Tevin Beanum is out for what Bielema called "emotional reasons." Asked for more specifics, he said that's all he could say. He is out indefinitely. Bielema asked "for prayers." Bielema said "it's nothing bad," but just "needs time away right now."

With Wallace out, Zach Rogers played right guard and took some snaps with the second team offense. Jackson Hannah also snapped with the twos. Ragnow handled all of the snaps with the ones. The center exchange issues were caused by the center going too fast at times.

Still, Bielema said Ragnow is going to be the center. He said if the Hogs played this week, Colton Jackson would be at left tackle, Hjalte Froholdt at left guard, Wallace at right guard and Dan Skipper at right tackle.

There was praise for the progress that Jackson and Froholdt have made on the left side. Wallace did well in the one day he played right guard, before sitting out Thursday and Saturday "when he got dinged up."

Allen's day could have been exceptional but for a drop by Dominique Reed on a deep pass that was put on the money. As it was, the fourth-year junior was 14 of 17 for 200 yards with three touchdowns. He was money on the crossing routes to the tight ends on an assortment of bootleg throws. He also lofted a nice sideline throw over coverage for tight end Jeremy Sprinkle.

Allen's only mistake was a scramble in which he was just beyond the line of scrimmage when he dumped a pass to Sprinkle. That play was wiped out. by penalty.

Bielema praised Storey for throwing the ball away in the face of a red zone blitz. He said, "That was one of the best plays of the day in the red zone, just throwing it away."

"He had great pocket presence," Bielema said of Allen. "He's got the best comprehension of what we are doing. He knows what order we are doing it and seldom makes an error. He's just playing the game and not worrying about the competition. He's playing with confidence."

Tight ends had a good day in the passing game. Sprinkle, the starter, has solid help with C.J. O'Grady, Will Gragg and Austin Cantrell. There don't appear to be any depth issues at a position that offensive coordinator Dan Enos loves to shift personnel looking for mismatches.

"We just need to get the tight ends more locked in on the run game," Bielema said. "We know they can handle the passing game."

Defensively, it appears that De'Andre Coley is making a move at strong safety. Bielema said the third-year sophomore has meshed with new secondary coach Paul Rhoads.

"Coley looks like the guy I recruited," he said. "He is playing with intelligence and he always played hard. He's a guy I would always put on special teams. He jumped out today."

Bielema called it "one of his more enjoyable days" overall. He thought all of his quarterbacks did well, although Ricky Town was on the field for only one short series.

There were few penalties on the day, but Bielema was upset at what he saw. He had the team doing "up downs" afterwards, noting O'Grady jumped offsides once and linebacker Khalia Hackett lined up in the neutral zone.

McTelvin "Sosa" Agim and Dre Greenlaw tangled, with some punches thrown. Sosa sat out the rest of the way.

"He threw punches twice," Bielema said. "So he would have been objected. I let what went on go a little bit because he deserved some of it. He was being a little chatty."

Skipper jumped into the fray and Bielema laughed when asked if the big tackle was trying to break it up.

"I don't think I'd bet on that," Bielema said. "The odds aren't good for that ever happening. Dan, he has to battle his own demons."

Agim worked at end and some at defensive tackle in pass rush situations. Karl Roesler got extra time at end with Beanum out.

Highlights on the defensive front had to be Ellis, Wise along with converted end Jeremiah Ledbetter at defensive tackle. Bielema said protection was tough against that group especially since running backs were not allowed to cut back.

Keon Hatcher made some nice catches, but was only in for limited snaps.

"We've held him back some," Bielema said. "We are just taking it careful with Keon. He's getting limited reps."

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