Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
ARKANSAS SPRING FOOTBALL:
QB competition familiar to Allens
Arkansas quarterbacks Brandon Allen (left) and Austin Allen run drills during practice Thursday afternoon in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Now that the redshirt seasons are over for Arkansas quarterbacks Austin Allen and Damon Mitchell, Brandon Allen could face a challenge from his brother for his starting quarterback job, just like in the old days at Fayetteville High School.
Brandon Allen, a redshirt junior, has always stayed in front of Austin, although the younger Allen followed up his brother’s successes at Fayetteville by leading the Bulldogs to greater heights with Class 7A state championships in2011 and 2012.
Arkansas coaches planned all along to redshirt Austin Allen last season, so this will be the brothers’ first serious dueling since 2010 at Fayetteville, when Brandon Allen led the team to a 10-4 record.
“It’s competition every day, and competition drives all of us,” said Brandon Allen, who is two years older than his brother.
“We’ve been competing all our lives,” Austin Allen said. “There’s been a competitive spirit between us forever, so it’s really nothing new.”
Brandon Allen entered spring drills with a healthy throwing shoulder after battling through an injury much of last season and a reinvigorated focus on his 6-2, 216-pound frame.
“I kind of kept my weight about the same, but I lost a lot of the fat on my body and tried to replace it with muscle,” he said. “I’m trying to get my body in better shape.
“I feel 100 percent. The shoulder’s completely fine, and I feel better out there just being in better shape.”
Allen completed 128 of 258 passes for 1,552 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season, his first as a starter in the new offense under Coach Bret Bielema and coordinator Jim Chaney.Allen started well but hurt his shoulder on a touchdown dive against Southern Mississippi in the third week of the season and didn’t fully heal for several weeks as the Razorbacks were mired in what became a school-record nine-game losing streak.
Allen had a 109.02 efficiency rating overall, and it dropped to 97.3 in SEC play, 14th in the conference. He was ranked 12th in the SEC with an average of 143.7 total yards per game.
“The injury was pretty bad, but he’s never going to use that as an excuse,” Austin Allen said. “Every week he tried to go out and play his best.He’s got thick skin. He’s had that all his life.”
After Arkansas lost a 17-point lead at Rutgers in a 28-24 loss with AJ Derby at quarterback, Bielema was asked whether he would consider taking the redshirt off of Austin Allen. Bielema said it was an option, but he added that neither Austin Allen nor Mitchell was ready to handle all the details of getting plays called, reading defenses, making checks and running the offense effectively.
“It’s night and day,” Austin Allen said of his progress from last year. “Going into fall practice last year, I’m not going to lie to you, I didn’t really know much. Now, going through a whole year and learning the concepts and everything, it’s just a light bulb turned on a little bit more this spring where I can see everything and read the coverage.
“I attribute that to Coach Chaney and getting in the film room and him teaching us up right.”
Brandon Allen has taken first-team repetitions through Arkansas’ first week of spring practice, with Derby and Austin Allen splitting the second-team snaps and Mitchell and Rafe Peavey, a freshman who enrolled in January, working with the third team.
Chaney said the quarterback snaps will likely be readjusted when the Razorbacks return from spring break April 1.
“Brandon knows what he’s doing a little bit more than everybody else because obviously he’s played there,” Chaney said. “He and AJ know the offense better than the rest. The other three young kids, we’re waiting to see. We’re putting some reps in to them, letting them look and see.
“That’s what the spring’s for, so everybody’s getting a good amount of reps so we can get a good evaluation on everybody.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 03/21/2014