Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Allen, Mitchell early leaders at QB
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen is tripped up by Alabama defensive lineman Quinton Dial during the fourth quarter of play Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE The competition to replace departed all-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson at Arkansas appears to be a two-man race, though first-year Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema is hopeful others can catch up.
Bielema, speaking in a press conference format for the first time since spring practice began last weekend, said Friday he has been encouraged by the play of Brandon Mitchell and Brandon Allen. The quarterbacks, who played minimally at the position during games last year, are "ahead of the curve," according to Bielema.
He said he looks for three characteristics to a starting quarterback: how to manage a game, how to execute plays and how to win in difficult circumstances.
"If you want a championship level team, he's got to be at his best when everybody else is at their worst," Bielema said. "And that truly defines a quarterback.
"I've never been into a QB rotation, never been a QB by committee guy. Now, there may be a segment that a quarterback has some unique skill sets that we could work him into. But on most accounts, you want that guy to be the signal caller on every play."
Allen played in five games as a redshirt freshman, including a start in a 52-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama in which Wilson missed because of a concussion. The Fayetteville native completed 21 of 49 passes, throwing three interceptions to just one touchdown.
Mitchell, who switched positions from quarterback to receiver prior to last season, played in just one game as a quarterback last year as a redshirt junior. He had a touchdown pass from his receiver position in a win over Auburn.
"Now we have to start getting into who our top three guys are and let them work," Bielema said. "The (first-team players) are always going to get the primary reps and you can split that between the quarterbacks until we get it right....I think it's easy to let two quarterbacks get equal reps in the spring and let the third get a fair share, but it is very difficult to get more after that."
Allen and Mitchell are part of a five-man group at quarterback this spring, which also includes Brian Buehner, Taylor Reed and A.J. Derby. Reed transferred to Arkansas from Memphis last off-season, while Derby transferred from Coffeyville Community College earlier this year.
"I would say this that A.J. Derby has shown some things that he’s definitely a guy that can manage a game," Bielema said. "He’s been in that position and continued to impress us .. He’s a thirsty kid, always eager to learn. Reed and Buehner both show flashes at times. You know, obviously, Reed has played at a college level before, Buehner hasn’t. And then, I would say those five guys, the more reps we can get them as move through spring ball, the better off we’re going to be, especially the top two."
The Razorbacks will also add Austin Allen, the younger brother of Brandon, next season. Austin Allen was Arkansas' Gatorade High School Player of the Year after leading Fayetteville to its second consecutive state championship last fall.
Echoing comments to Razorback club earlier this week, Bielema said he has been pleased with his team's attitude through the first week of practice, which concluded Thursday with the team wearing pads for the first time. The NCAA mandates two practices without full pads.
"Really, try to use them as teaching periods," Bielema said. "We had minimal contact between the offense and defense and special teams. It was more about just getting ourselves right on how we do a drill, how we prepare, how we execute the beginning, the start to every drill, how my coaches are going to interact with each other, how they’re going to transition on the football field. Did a little bit of good on good those first two days, but yesterday was the first day in big-boy pads. We were in full pads, head to toe. Kids got excited, our coaches got excited, everything kind of got amplified by quite a bit; got a little bit sloppy in the details but he effort, the enthusiasm, the intensity was unwavering."
Arkansas will return to the practice field on March 26 after the university resumes business following spring break. The Razorbacks will hold three scrimmages of about 40 to 60 plays, Bielema said, prior to its spring game on April 20.