Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A two-time 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.
Allen healthy again
QB struggled with injuries last season
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen walks off the field after the Razorbacks failed to convert on third down during the second quarter of play Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE For the first time in nearly six months, Brandon Allen said he felt 100 percent walking off a football field.
The quarterback was knocked around in his first season as a starter, suffering a shoulder injury in the third game of the season and a leg gash that required stitches late in the year.
"It's hard to tell," Allen said of how healthy he was last season. "I did have some discomfort, but now it's all good.
"Now it's nice to be able to go out and sling it around like I did before. Just the fact I'm feeling better helps my game a lot."
Allen, who threw 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions last season and quarterbacked the league's worst statistical pass offense, took heat from fans following Arkansas' first ever winless SEC season. The Fayetteville native said throughout the season he wasn't affected by the struggles, but in hindsight his coaches said that likely wasn't accurate.
"From a personal standpoint when you're in charge and it doesn't go well, you take a lot of ownership and your pride is hurt," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "We've tried to do everything we can the last three or four months to achieve higher and to represent the university in a better way, and I know Brandon is doing that better than anybody right now. He wants to get on the field and perform at a higher level and I want to coach at a higher level, so that's what we're both trying to get done."
Allen finds himself in a healthy position battle this spring. Among his competitors are his younger brother, Austin, and former Missouri prep star Rafe Peavey who enrolled in college prior to this spring. A.J. Derby, who started a loss at Rutgers and played the majority of a win against Southern Miss after Allen was injured last season, and redshirt freshman Damon Mitchell are the other quarterbacks involved in the mix this spring.
Chaney said Brandon Allen has received the most snaps through two spring practices, but noted he and head coach Bret Bielema will reevaluate that distribution while players are gone on spring break next week.
"Right now Brandon's probably getting a little more reps than anybody because he's familiar. He's earned that right to get more as we get through it," Chaney said. "We'll look at some stuff over spring break when Coach Bielema and I get some time to visit, just to find some direction on where we want to go in terms of reps as the spring progresses. Until we decide which way we want to go we'll continue to distribute those reps the same. I'm sure that will eventually come to a halt and we'll have to make some tough decisions."
Much of the focus at quarterback is likely to center around the Allen brothers, who reset the record books in the Arkansas high school ranks, and Peavey, who competed in the UnderArmour All-American Game earlier this year.
"I think Rafe can throw the ball good," Chaney said. "He's a young kid and a little lost on some concepts. In a few areas, he understands. He's like every other true freshman quarterback in his first spring. But he's shown some talent and flashes.
"I'm just trying to get a good look at everybody in the room and see where they're at, and evaluate them based on what we're trying to do."
Austin Allen said the quarterbacks are pushing each other because of the time being put in off the field.
"All the quarterbacks are going in every day and doing as much as they can to watch film, learn the new installs and going out there and trying to put it on the field," he said. "I feel everyone has gotten better from last year as far as knowing the offense, all the verbiage and all that. It's a healthy competition. We're all just trying to get better and make each other better."
But the younger Allen noted he sees something different about the older one this spring, which could lead to the Razorbacks having a second-year starter under center.
"Just seeing him now throw the football, it's refreshing to see what he can do," Austin Allen said. "He's back to 100 percent."