Jimmy Carter is an award-winning reporter covering Arkansas football and basketball for WholeHogSports.com. He was born in Texas and grew up in Tulsa. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
What we learned in Arkansas' first spring scrimmage
Arkansas redshirt freshman quarterback Cole Kelley during practice Saturday, April 8, 2017.
FAYETTEVILLE — Five takeaways from Arkansas' first spring scrimmage.
Run game takes advantage of coach-imposed defensive limitations
Arkansas’ defense stuck with a base look for the entirety of the Razorbacks’ first spring scrimmage. That meant no blitzes and no stunts and twists for the defensive linemen. Defensive players also weren’t allowed to go low when tackling ballcarriers for safety reasons.
That combination gave the offense a significant edge, one it fully took advantage of.
Rawleigh Williams unofficially ran for 189 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries against the first-team defense, including going untouched for a 63-yard touchdown run up the middle. Devwah Whaley ran for 88 yards on 14 carries, with 74 yards on 9 attempts coming against the starting defense.
Regardless of limitations, giving up 263 yards and allowing 9.4 yards per carry isn’t how any starting defense wants to play, especially one that was porous against the run last year and as a result is transitioning to a new 3-4 scheme. There were some missed tackles and bad angles taken, both areas that plagued Arkansas last year.
But it’s hard to properly evaluate either side of the run game when one unit is limited. Bret Bielema said the next week of practice will be spent installing pressures and line stunts. Next Saturday’s scrimmage could provide a more accurate gauge of strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the ball.
The scrimmage lasted more than 130 plays, long by Bielema standards.
Both the first and second teams ran 52 plays. It was a run-heavy, grind-it-out scrimmage, especially considering it was the team’s first live tackling practice of the spring.
Williams had a heavy workload by design. Offensive coordinator Dan Enos called specific run plays in order to allow Williams to work on certain cuts the staff felt he needed to improve on. Based on the results, it’s safe to say he did a decent job.
Frank Ragnow didn’t scrimmage, part of Bielema’s plan to limit his senior center’s contact this spring. Senior receiver Jared Cornelius caught 4 passes for 53 yards, but Bielema indicated he may also be in line for a lessened scrimmage workload moving forward.
The rest of the team? Not if this week was any indication. Bielema said practice was intentionally physical throughout. The scrimmage backed up the assertion.
Kelley, Storey still getting even reps
Sophomore Ty Storey was the first quarterback to lead the second-team offense Saturday. A few plays later, redshirt freshman Cole Kelley entered. A few plays later, Kelley found Jordan Jones on a crossing route for a 63-yard touchdown, hitting Jones in stride about 20 yards downfield and letting the speedy redshirt freshman do the rest.
Kelley is the more physically gifted of the two, both in stature and arm strength. He played better early, too, building on his early touchdown with a few other nice passes.
But he wasn’t as sharp late in the scrimmage. His final pass, the final play of the scrimmage, was tipped into the air and intercepted by Bijhon Jackson, who returned it 37 yards for a touchdown.
Storey was the opposite. He struggled early on, hitting on just 2 of his first 8 attempts. He missed some throws in the flat and sailed the ball well over Jones head in the end zone on a play that should’ve been an easy touchdown.
But he finished well, completing his last 5 passes, all of which during the portion of the practice where the offense was allowed to actually drive the ball as opposed to returning it to a set spot.
Bielema said afterward there hasn’t been any separation between the two. Kelley’s physical gifts would seemingly give him an edge long-term, but he does have a daring tendency to try to fit passes into tight spaces that can get him into trouble.
Jones makes impact
Jones' long touchdown catch-and-run wasn't his only highlight of the day.
Working mostly with the second team, he finished with 4 catches for a scrimmage-high 99 yards, hauling in several nice passes and showcasing the ability that had receivers coach Michael Smith praising his talent as he redshirted last fall.
His knowledge of the playbook needs to continue getting better, but there's no denying his natural skills. He has the tools to make a difference this fall.
Starting corners impress
Saturday was Kevin Richardson’s first live tackling work since he was injured last year. He will almost assuredly figure into the cornerback rotation and as the Razorbacks’ nickel back this fall, but the first-team corner reps were dominated by Ryan Pulley and Henre’ Toliver.
Both had their share of impressive moments.
Pulley closed quickly and with force on a short slant, arriving in sync with the ball to break up a pass intended for La’Michael Pettway. Toliver had a pair of nice plays on the sideline, including a pass breakup of his own against Pettway.
Cornelius had a solid day, but Pulley and Toliver had their share of nice plays and appeared to hold the upper hand against a young receiving corps most of the afternoon. Richardson was no slouch, either, finishing with a scrimmage-high 3 pass breakups.
Sophomore linebacker Scoota Harris came up with the only turnover during the starter portion of the scrimmage when he plucked an Austin Allen pass that had been deflected by safety Santos Ramirez.
Harris unofficially finished with 10 tackles, second only to Josh Liddell’s 11. The Razorbacks are counting on him to replace four-year starter Brooks Ellis and he’s taken on even more responsibility this spring with weakside linebacker Dre Greenlaw sidelined while he recovers from a foot injury.
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.