Notice the hair in the portrait of Austin Allen with this story. Those wavy, brown locks are now gone.
Allen announced at the Hawgs Illustrated photo shoot that it would be the last before a hair cut. He’s won the bet from last season with former Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry. With the $50 winnings safely tucked away and the dog days of summer fast approaching, Allen was headed to the barber shop as soon as photographer Jason Ivester finished.
“The bet with Hunter was at the end of last season,” Allen said. “He said I wouldn’t grow it out. I did. But I didn’t like it. I tried it for awhile, but I can’t deal with it anymore.”
The reviews were mixed. Bobby Allen, his father, turned thumbs down almost immediately. Brooks Ellis, Allen’s best friend, began to kid him soon after the hair began to stick out from under his helmet.
“Brooks gave it to me pretty good,” Allen said. “He said I was doing it for my girlfriend. She did like it.”
Even without the longer hair, there has been a lot to like about Austin Allen over the winter and spring.
Dan Enos, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, has been impressed with everything the fourth-year junior has done in the journey to become the starting quarterback. He said it’s been impressive to watch Austin take coaching just the way older brother Brandon did last year when Enos arrived on Bret Bielema’s staff.
“First, both Brandon and Austin are good kids,” Enos said. “I credit Bret for developing the culture and bringing in the right people. With both of these quarterbacks, they never resisted anything I tried to do. They wanted to be coached.
“I have always said as coaches we are in the people business. We have to get to know our players. And, that was something easy to do with Brandon and Austin and really all of these quarterbacks. They are good people.”
The job now is to identify what Austin Allen does well, along with the rest of the offense. There are a lot of returning players from last season, but some key components are gone.
Obviously, Austin is different from his older brother at quarterback. The Hogs also lost playmakers Alex Collins at running back and Hunter Henry at tight end. All three had the ball in their hands a lot.
There are plenty of playmakers coming back. Senior tight end Jeremy Sprinkle is poised for an All-SEC campaign. Senior wide receivers Drew Morgan, Keon Hatcher, Cody Hollister and Dominique Reed are proven stars. Junior Jared Cornelius was also a big-time playmaker down the stretch.
“I’m confident in all five of those wide receivers,” Enos said. “They can all make a play. Jeremy can replace Hunter, but we have to find someone to replace Jeremy as that second tight end.”
The task will be to figure out exactly what all of the new pieces can do best.
“The identity changes from year to year,” Enos said. “Once you figure out the ID, then you can design plays, concepts and do things. It evolves. The wrinkles are different because players are different.
“I can remember a year where we had a route concept that we completed 88 percent of the time. The next year, I kept calling that route and it wasn’t working. It was different players.
“There may be some things Brandon did well, but maybe Austin doesn’t. But there may be things Austin does better than Brandon. We’ll massage it, look at it and it will evolve. Different things might be emphasized. We’ll gear up what fits. My job is to put players in position to do what they do well.
“You are dealing with human beings and they aren’t the same from one year to the next. What you do in camp is try to find the best 15 or so players and then build something around them. You find the personality of the team.”
Enos is confident the pieces are in place. There was consternation about the new parts in the offensive line around returnees Dan Skipper and Frank Ragnow, but Enos loves what they found on the left side of the offensive line with freshman tackle Kolton Jackson and guard Hjalte Froholdt. There is some debate how to line up Brian Wallace and Skipper on the right side, guard or tackle. But they are both solid players. Ragnow could eventually develop into an All-SEC center.
New offensive line coach Kurt Anderson reworked some techniques that seemed to click as the spring progressed, including some cutback plays that Rawleigh Williams seemed to love.
The line will add freshman Jake Heinrich and juco transfer Paul Ramirez in the early summer. Freshman Austin Capps was signed as a defensive tackle, but could figure in the picture at guard. He comes to school with speed and an SEC body. He’ll be as strong as anyone on the team.
The running back picture was clouded in the spring because Williams was in a no-contact green jersey after a neck injury in the fall. Kody Walker missed the last two weeks of spring with a broken foot. Damon “Duwop” Mitchell got extra work in the spring and looks to be a fit. Juan Day, battling back from two ACL surgeries, showed flashes in the spring.
“I feel really good with Rawleigh and Kody back,” Enos said. “Both are potential 1,000-yard rushers. They are that good.”
There is great excitement over freshman Devwah Whaley and T.J. Hammonds.
“Whaley has the size, speed, just the whole package,” Enos said. “I’ve liked T.J. all along. He gives us a different guy with a burst and acceleration. He can cut while at full speed.
“I think running back could be one of our deepest position. The goal is to have three ready and develop that fourth as we go along. We have enough capable and good bodies. I’m excited.”
Morgan was not on the field for scrimmages after successful surgery in January to fix a shoulder. He did go through non-contact drills, including pass skeleton. He wanted to be on the field for every snap with Austin Allen, trying to create that bond that clearly existed with Brandon Allen.
Because of that, Morgan was a handful to keep in check this spring. The feisty receiver would stick his head in the huddle, then break toward the line of scrimmage with teammates, urging them on.
“It was kind of funny to watch him in the spring,” Enos said. “He was running all over the field in scrimmages, trying to help coach. Our defensive coaches wanted him off the field because they couldn’t tell our personnel groups. But it was hard to get Drew out of there.
“The defensive coaches were pleading with us to keep Drew off the field so they could count wide receivers and tight ends to match their right personnel.”
Morgan isn’t the biggest or the fastest, but he proved to be the most clutch.
“You don’t want someone to cower or shy away in a big moment,” Enos said. “What you saw with Drew, he wanted his number called. In the most important situations, he wanted to be the first option. It was important to him to make that play in a big spot.
“There was a practice last spring where he dropped two passes. The next day when I saw him, he was apologizing. He said, ‘If I’m going to talk that talk, then I can’t drop it when you come to me.’ I didn’t say a word to him, but he felt just terrible that he didn’t make those plays.”
It was great competition between the wide receivers and the secondary, retooled by new assistant Paul Rhoads. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith said the entire defense was more like the way his unit played at the end of 2014 than the one which often struggled last year, especially against spread concepts.
“Coach Rhoads did a great job of training eyes,” Smith said. “And, he held guys accountable. Our corners were a confident group and our safeties were better with their keys.
“We just look like an SEC defense. Our linemen and long and look the part. Our linebackers have some depth and look the part. Our secondary got bigger. And, there is something about Kevin Richardson that really helps our back end. He’s so important.”
The bell cow on defense is senior end Deatrich Wise, perhaps the best looking player on the field at 6-5, 280. He has an incredible wingspan.
It was a battle to run plays with Wise on the field at times. He wrecked blocking schemes and is poised for an All-SEC campaign.
There is a comfort level from Smith with what Wise can do paired with “three technique” tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter with weakside linebacker Dre Greenlaw behind them. It’s what Smith had two years ago with Trey Flowers, Darius Philon and Martrell Spaight. Smith calls that his weakside triangle. Smith said line coach Rory Segrest has “done a wonderful job” with the front. Freshman McTelvin “Sosa” Agim is another versatile piece to the defensive front.
“With what Rory is doing with those guys, we can win some battles,” Smith said. “And, we can move guys around up front because we have versatility. We can look for match-ups. You can put guys like Ledbetter and Sosa inside and match them with a guard and cause real problems.”
It’s more than just an outside triangle.
“We will move the triangle around,” Smith said. “Normally, it’s to the open side of the field, the weakside. But on third down, you might want to set a triangle over the center. What we are doing is dictating daylight with our scheme. That dictates the blocking scheme and we get the matchup we want.”
In other words, they will set the front to make it impossible to double team the key pass rushers.
“We have guys who can do the things Philon did with a burst,” Smith said. “I just feel good about where we are in the defensive front.”
So does Enos. As difficult as it was for the offense to handle Wise and others in the spring, Enos knows it only made them better.
“Our defense is very good,” Enos said. “The defensive line is big, athletic and deep. There were a lot of times this spring you’d see them do things and you’d just say, ‘Wow!’ They were tough on us. They kept guys fresh.
“I think the linebackers are very good and deep now. Brooks Ellis is exceptional. Dre Greenlaw does so many things well. Plus, as I saw Khalia Hackett and Randy Ramsey develop, they had depth to roll around.
“The secondary was very good. Paul Rhoads had an impact on our team.”
As the spring progressed, there were fewer open routes.
“We might have something open one day, Paul would make an adjustment and it was gone,” Enos said. “They would make little adjustments and take things away. What I saw was a very disciplined secondary with eyes in the right places.”
There was depth in the secondary with plenty of corners to play against spread teams that will play multiple wideouts.
“I think we can play four corners and six defensive backs,” Smith said. “And, we really developed something with Kevin Richardson as a nickel. We played him more and more last season and it helped us.
“We are much more confident in our system. When you are confident, you play closer to your man.”
There is help on the way in the secondary, too. Freshman safety Deon Edwards and junior college transfer corner Britto Tutt could figure into the depth. Both arrive this summer.
“Edwards has cover skills,” Smith said. “Tutt has length. They are going to help us.
“Really, there are several freshman who could figure into depth. Briston Guidry and Jonathan Marshall are impressive, really exciting. Guidry is one of those guys inside like Philon and Ledbetter, with a tremendous production. Marshall is built like Wise.
“Austin Capps is another one who figures somewhere. He could help us at defensive tackle, or at guard. I love his athletic ability. He can play multiple spots.
“I think what you see is just the development of the roster. Coach B just keeps bringing in players. And, at the same time you have guys like Karl Roesler develop (from a walk-on). He has played quality football for us and will again this season. He’s got the speed to play at this level.”
The special teams got intensive work in the spring with placekicker Cole Hedlund showing improved height and accuracy. Punter Toby Baker was spectacular in the spring, adding a deadly coffin corner ball that he hit end over end. Anderson added some protections for field goals and extra points.
The schedule is a killer once again. It may be the best home schedule ever with Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida and LSU coming to Fayetteville. There is a trip to TCU in the second week of the season.