Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Early injuries tough to swallow for Hogs
Demetrius Wilson will miss the 2013 season with a torn ACL.
FAYETTEVILLE - The media day optimism that the Arkansas Razorbacks exuded Aug. 11 has tempered somewhat.
Significant injuries can start clouding the rosiest of rose-colored glasses. Arkansas suffered three significant injuries last week.
They compel Coach Bret Bielema to lace what’s brewing now with ingredients not so heavily emphasized until Demetrius Wilson, Austin Tate and Otha Peters had to be removed from the mix.
Wilson, a senior receiver, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in a knee and is done for the season. He will redshirt, preserving a fifth-year senior season in 2014.
Senior tight end Tate (shoulder surgery) and sophomore backup linebacker Peters (broken arm) definitely will miss the Aug. 31 season-opener against Louisiana-Lafayette. Bielema holds hope - but naturally there are no guarantees - that Tate and perhaps Peters return by the Sept. 28 SEC opener againstTexas A&M.
Arkansas plays four nonconference games before hosting the Aggies in Fayetteville.
Tate, a fifth-year senior and three-year letterman, is the most accomplished of the injured three, but because of tight end depth he may be the least difficult on the field to replace.
He cannot be replaced be as an intangible leader. Bielema stressed Tate will remain “the glue” in the offensive meeting rooms and “father figure” mentoring the tight ends.
No available tight end does everything across the board betterthan Tate, but sophomore letterman Mitch Loewen, 6-4, 271 pounds, is a bigger blocker, and sophomore Alex Voelzke, a growing 6-6, 250, is no lightweight.
The two rookie tight ends, 6-6 touted true freshman Hunter Henry from Pulaski Academy and 6-6 freshman Jeremy Sprinkle of White Hall, redshirted last fall because of a broken wrist, are not only are the fastest but most gifted receivers among the tight ends. But with Wilson out, and sophomore wideout Mekale McKay having transferred, they are fast becoming the team’s primary deep threats.
Drew Morgan, the true freshman receiver out of Greenwood, becomes crucial among the wideouts, who will be led by seniors Javontee Herndon and Julian Horton.
Injuries at linebacker in 2012 forced Peters and A.J Turner to become starters as true freshmen who likely would have been better off redshirted. Both played pretty well under their overmatched circumstances, but their inexperience was just one more malady of the 4-8 Hogs under interim coach John L. Smith.
Turner, proclaimed by Bielema as a redshirt possibility for 2013, and Peters were both injured last spring.
In August, Peters moved to the second team behind senior middle linebacker Austin Jones until he was injured again.
So true freshman linebacker Brooks Ellis of Fayetteville becomes this year’s rookie linebacker thrust into prime time. Ellis is the top reserve at weakside linebacker behind senior Jarrett Lake and will likely practice in the middle without Peters.
“I know he’s gotten frustrated,” Bielema said of Ellis dealing with the learning curve. “But Brooks Ellis is as gifted a linebacker as I have been around and is going to have an extremely bright future here. He can really run.”
Sports, Pages 16 on 08/19/2013