Jason Ivester

State of the Hogs: Scrimmage Thoughts after Standing with Pat Jones

Arkansas is about the mid point of spring football. What did the Razorbacks look like to some veteran eyes on Saturday during a major scrimmage? I caught up with Pat Jones before and after the scrimmage.

I was impressed with where Arkansas sits in an overall look Saturday with both Austin Allen and Rafe Peavey playing well at quarterback in an extended scrimmage.

It's basically the midway point of spring football practices. Seven are in the books and eight more will be split between the next two weeks. The Hogs finish with the spring game at noon on Saturday, April 23.

So it's time for a review of where the Razorbacks are after the first two weeks of spring drills. It's good to find someone with some real expertise, not just a sports writer knowledge of football.

I was interested to hear what an old friend thought of the Razorbacks. I visited during the early part of the practice part of the day with Pat Jones, the former Oklahoma State coach now doing radio in Tulsa. Jones grew up in LIttle Rock, has an Arkansas degree and was on the Arkansas staff under Frank Broyles.

I told Pat that I was impressed with what I'd seen in the first scrimmage the previous week. We covered some of the things that I'd seen and then I left him alone for the scrimmage part of the day.

I caught up with Jones yesterday and we visited about the scrimmage. There are not many people in this world that I respect -- and feel close to -- more as far as football knowledge as Pat. I was interested to learn that Pat was impressed, too.

"They look good and play good as far as the physical part of the game," Jones said. "I liked Austin Allen at quarterback. He can do what they need at quarterback. He's good in the passing game and running the offense. He looks solid to me.

"They have some weapons, but still need more. They probably won't know about tailback until Rawleigh Williams plays next year and the (Devwah) Whaley kid gets here. I do see some potential in Damon Mitchell. Kody Walker is going to bang for some yards, but he's not going to get you any big plays.

"I like what I see with the offensive line. They are progressing and can be as good as last year's offensive line. They actually look better in a lot of ways. They have some athletes there.

"Defensively, I like what they have done with their front. Having (Jeremiah) Ledbetter inside gives them more athletic ability. They are better at linebacker. They are decent in the secondary.

"On the secondary, I can tell you that Paul Rhoads will help them. I think a lot on him. It goes back for me to what Dave Wannestedt told me when they were together at Pitt. Paul is a very good coach, a very good teacher. He will have them lined up right in the secondary. I can tell from being around them Saturday morning that Robb Smith and Paul work very well together."

Jones thinks the Hogs are better at wide receiver.

"They have some playmakers there," Jones said. "The guy I wanted to see more of is the (Dominique) Reed kid. He did get loose on one deep ball, but he dropped it. I think with him, (Keon) Hatcher and (Jared) Cornelius, they have some playmakers. I know they like (Drew Morgan) the kid from Greenwood, too."

There is still a need for more speed on defense, Jones said. The overall ability to strike and make plays is still not what he would want to see on that side of the ball.

"They are better," he said. "They looked leaner to me this spring than last fall and I liked that. You have to be lean and able to run to play defense. I think they look more like that now. But as far as someone with a real burst, just someone who strikes you and causes problems, I don't see that."

The closest thing to that, Jones said, seemed to be Santos Ramirez and De'Andre Coley at strong safety. Jones said he saw Coley make several plays of that type in the scrimmage and saw him get to a couple of passes in the pre-scrimmage drills.

The tight end position was impressive.

"I really was high on Hunter Henry," Jones said. "So after losing him, I wondered if they would be good enough there. I was very pleased with what I saw. Jeremy Sprinkle is a very good player. He is heavier, but he's still light on his feet. And, I saw those three young ones do some very nice things. They appear to have four where last year I thought they had two. They will be good at that position and that makes it tough on a defensive coordinator."

Pat then asked a question that there doesn't seem to be an answer for just yet. Who is going to play fullback in an offense that generally requires someone there at least part of the time?

"I would guess that they will use those tight ends there some," Jones said, not really prepared to answer his own question.

Told there was a top fullback prospect in the signing class, Jones seemed to remember a little about Hayden Johnson from Missouri. Perhaps that position will work out after all, he said.

"The tailback situation may work out. But that's the thing that worries me. You play some teams in the SEC that you have a hard time blocking them. So if you don't have someone who can make you miss or has some real speed, then you end up getting 1 yard because you didn't block them all. You can't block them all."

But it was a pleasant day of watching football for Jones. He liked what he saw.

"I think Bret has done a good job building the program," Jones said. "They have gotten to the point that they are physically strong and they can play with anyone. There is more speed on the roster, but they probably need a little more of that in some places."


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