If it looked like Brandon Allen improved his pocket presence last season, it wasn’t just experience. Give Dan Enos credit for changing a few things with daily repetition in practice.
Plus, expect Austin Allen to pick up where his older brother left off as far as the way he bounces forward in the pocket, not backwards. It’s not an accident that Arkansas quarterbacks understand to step up under Enos.
Enos just finished his second spring as Bret Bielema’s offensive coordinator. More than that, he’s a standout quarterbacks coach. He’s one of the best I’ve seen at Arkansas in developing the skills that shine in games.
Yes, David Lee knew how to coach option quarterbacks. Without question, he did nice things with the likes of Quinn Grovey and Matt Jones.
But as far as understanding how to slide in the pocket to avoid trouble and still make plays when protections are breaking down, none I have seen at Arkansas match what Enos teaches.
Brandon Allen told me that what he learned under Enos made him a different quarterback. There were daily drills that changed the way the senior sorted through trouble spots last year that probably didn’t happen in his first three.
So it was time to get into some of those basic fundamentals on pocket presence after Austin made the same comments last week in the final interviews for the Hawgs Illustrated summer football preview, now rolling off the press.
Asked about moving forward in the pocket, Austin said, “We drill that every day for the first four periods. We move forward and outside the pocket to find a passing lane.”
Some of the drills reminded Austin of similar thoughts given to him in high school by Zak Clark, then the quarterbacks coach at Fayetteville High School. It hit me that Clark also coached Brandon Allen, but only for one season. Austin was under Clark for three years.
That may explain why Austin seemed to have the better ability to slide around in the pocket in high school, while Brandon was more prone to take off in one direction or the other at top speed. Austin seemed to find a way to buy time to throw.
“That is true,” Austin said. “Brandon only had Coach Clark for one year. I had him for three and played two.”
Either way, Enos has probably emphasized those situations more with practice simulations of the collapsing pocket.
“We do a lot of drills to get you up and out of the pocket,” Austin said. “I know this, I’m not going to run away from an SEC linebacker. I need to find a way to get a little more time and get the ball off. Finding a lane forward is the best way.”
Austin has spent the last three seasons as his older brother’s understudy. That mirrors the one season he waited in high school.
“It seems like I’ve done that my entire life,” he said, noting he’s looking forward to shedding the green no-contact practice jersey that’s been the companion for almost all of his action the last three seasons.
“I am ready to get that off and play a real game. I want to get hit. I want to see live bullets. It’s what I dream about.”
No doubt, Enos dreams about practice drills that will prepare his quarterbacks for those pass rush situations. When I asked about those, he first had to preach a little bit about the struggles to identify quarterback talent in the age of seven-on-seven and silly games at show case events.
“I’m going to get on my soap box a little bit,” Enos said. “I don’t know how you can tell if a guy can play with some of these camps. Obviously, there is nothing to simulate a pass rush. They are asking the quarterback to throw the ball in a circle, a bucket or hit a moving target.
“I don’t think seeing them drop a ball into a bucket tells you anything. I want to see them against a pass rush, or something close to that. You better watch them in games, not seven-on-seven or camps.”
Enos said he’s constantly trying to find more ways to put pressure on his quarterbacks without hitting them.
“We have four or five periods every day that we work through mechanics and situations that simulate what they are going to see in a game,” Enos said. “We want a high elbow, a quick snap. There are a whole series of drills we do to get that and it has to do with pocket stance and pocket posture.
“We are going to have specific drops and balance drills. Then, there will be drills where they have to get in the proper posture, move to another spot and then get that balance and posture back. It’s exactly what they are going to face in a game.We mimic that.
“It’s an on going process in my mind to keep finding ways to increase what I call game instincts. You have to find ways in practice to reproduce what they see in a game, then build those instincts. I am constantly looking for new things to do that.”
Oh, there is one more thing I learned in talking to Austin Allen for our summer magazine. He decided it was time for a summer hair do. He’s cut his hair. After collecting a bet on a dare from Hunter Henry, then posing for the Hawgs Illustrated photo shoot with wavy locks, Austin made his dad happy by heading to the barber shop.
“My dad hated it,” Austin said. “I was getting teased by Brooks Ellis, but my girl friend liked it. I just thought it was too much trouble.”
Austin Allen has learned from Dan Enos, do what is needed to stay out of trouble.