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.
Mitchel leading way for UA corners
Arkansas cornerbacks Tevin Mitchel (23) and Carroll Washington (21) run drills during practice Thursday, April 10, 2014 in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - From every corner there is touted a difference in the Arkansas Razorbacks this spring as compared to their 3-9 last fall.
Coach Bret Bielema took to every corner praising the Razorbacks cornerbacks following Saturday’s scrimmage and has consistently called the corners primary to an improved secondary this spring.
“If there’s a unit on our field that’s the most improved, it’s definitely the corners,” Bielema said after Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Where we were struggling a year ago, and I know we’re not playing the SEC schedule right now, but you really feel good about those five guys competing.”
A question about the scrimmage performance of senior cornerback Carroll Washington, the second-year junior college transfer recovered a fumble, intercepted a pass and broke up two passes Saturday, prompted Bielema to break into praise extending to returning cornerbacks Tevin Mitchel, a senior, junior two-year letterman Will Hines, third-year sophomore letterman Jared Collins and true sophomore letterman D.J. Dean.
“Carroll’s done a nice job,” Bielema said. “We brought him in as a junior college kid a year ago. It took him awhile to learn how we want things done and he’s finally getting it.”
Second-year Coach Bielema also recruited Dean while inheriting Mitchel, Hines and Collins, all signed when Bobby Petrino was still head coach.
Only Mitchel actually played for Petrino. Petrino had been fired and nominally replaced by John L. Smith in 2012 when, as freshmen, Hines lettered and Collins redshirted.
Mitchel posted an outstanding 2011 season as a true freshman on an 11-2 team. Memories remain from the 2012 spring and August preseason of top returning senior wide receiver Cobi Hamilton in one-on-one drills waving off other corners so he could match up best against best versus Mitchel head to head.
Then in the 2012 season’s second game, the season-derailing upset loss to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock, Mitchel was knocked out. He suffered a major concussion that sidelined him the next four games. Mitchel did return that 4-8 2012 season and played every game last year. But Mitchel’s peaks of 2011 seemed bygone beyond him.
This spring Mitchel has changed all that. He even changed his number, from No. 8 to No. 23, and has played like a new man for new secondary coach Clay Jennings and new defensive coordinator Robb Smith.
“I can’t even tell you excited I am about No. 23,” Bielema said after the April 5 scrimmage marked Arkansas’ sixth of the 15 practices allotted.
“He’s had in my opinion the most improvement through six practices as anybody on the team. Just confidence, swagger, ability, toughness.”
A ticking clock compels Mitchel to maximize his remaining Arkansas time down to his last six spring practices.
“You know this is my last spring,” Mitchel said. “I’m taking advantage of it. I’m more focused and I’m buying in with the coaches and I’m trying to become a better player and a better person.”
And a better leader among better cornerbacks thus far.
Sports, Pages 16 on 04/14/2014