Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Coach hopeful Derby won't be needed at QB
Arkansas quarterback AJ Derby prepares to take a snap in the second half of the game against Southern Miss on Saturday September 14, 2013 at Razorbacks Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE AJ Derby will begin preseason practice taking some snaps at quarterback, but Arkansas coaches are hopeful the number will decrease leading up to the season.
Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema said Tuesday during an interview on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly that Derby's experience at the position would make him the most viable second-string option if the season were beginning right now. But Bielema was quick to add that he was excited about freshmen back-ups Austin Allen and Rafe Peavey, and thinks the two will pass Derby on the depth chart.
"They've both had great summers," Bielema said. "(Offensive coordinator) Jim (Chaney) has been able to meet with them by NCAA rules. Quarterbacks are kind of football junkies, you know, so I'm excited to see how much those two have grown. If it's as much as we think they have and hope they have, then AJ won't get as many reps."
Derby started one game and played the majority of another at quarterback last season, finishing his first year at Arkansas completing 19 of 36 passes for 178 yards. Derby added weight and was moved to tight end in spring practice, and Bielema said he believes the senior will "be one of the best stories on our team this season" playing the new position.
In addition to tight end, Bielema said Derby could be used as the chute, or an up-back, in the Razorbacks' punt game, adding a wrinkle to a package that already features an ambidextrous, rugby-style punter.
"A person who can throw the football back there is kind of exciting to have," Bielema said.
Chaney said last week that Derby needs to continue practicing some at quarterback in case of multiple injuries to others at the position.
"You'd probably be a fool not to keep his hand in it a little bit," Chaney said. "The kid knows how to play quarterback, he's a competitive guy and he's a senior on our football team. It makes no sense not to let him have a little bit (of practice) once in a while."
While the backup position is in flux, Arkansas coaches have said there is no doubt Brandon Allen will be the team's starter to begin the year. Bielema said last week that Allen didn't practice for six weeks during one point last season after suffering an injury to his throwing shoulder in the third game against Southern Miss.
Allen only missed one complete game with the injury, but struggled with arm strength, accuracy and turnovers during the conference season. Bielema has maintained a healthy Allen will be a different player and coaches claim the quarterback's leadership has stood out during the off-season.
"I think he's got a quiet respect among our team and people like him," Chaney said. "He's worked his hind-end off here in the off-season and has out-worked a lot of people. That's a good thing and any time your quarterback is showing that kind of work ethic that's really, really good.
"I think he's a talented young man. I look for him to go out and produce on the football field the way we hope he can. I know Brandon wants that, we all want that and we're excited to go see him do it."