Austin Allen leader of strong group of Razorbacks quarterbacks

Posted: April 21, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen goes through practice Saturday, April 8, 2017, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Austin Allen had a 3-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio (18-6) and completed 63 percent of his passes during Arkansas' 5-2 start in 2016.

After getting roughed up in a lopsided loss at Auburn, including a low dive from behind by Carl Lawson that left Allen with a bruised right knee, the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville quarterback had a ragged finish to his junior season.

Quarterbacks position glance

Returning starter Austin Allen (13 starts in 2016)

Key losses None

Who’s back Ty Storey, Cole Kelley (2016 redshirt)

Who’s new Daulton Hyatt

Walk-ons Jack Lindsey, Carson Proctor

Analysis Allen is in position to start as a senior to complete a fifth consecutive season with an Allen brother under center during the Bret Bielema era. Allen had a much stronger first half of 2016 than after suffering a bruised knee at Auburn in Week 8. He must cut down on his 15 interceptions and should improve on his 61.1 percent completions. Storey and Kelley are locked in a good battle for the backup role. Storey did not perform well in limited duty last season. He has improved and has made fewer ball security mistakes than Kelley during scrimmages.

Allen threw 7 touchdowns and 9 interceptions and completed 58.7 percent of his passes during the Razorbacks' 2-4 finish. Offensive coordinator Dan Enos, after praising Allen's ability to keep his eyes downfield in the face of oncoming pressure early in the season, said later in the year that his quarterback seemed more impacted by pass rushes.

One of the aims of the Arkansas offense this season is to protect Allen better after the Razorbacks allowed 35 sacks -- the second-worst total in the SEC behind South Carolina's 41 -- and to improve Allen's snap-decision making.

"Just as a whole group, we're working on ball security, when to throw the ball away, when to check it down, when to take off to run, and it's kind of been a big emphasis for us," Allen said early in the spring.

"We wanted him to be better with his pocket posture and with his focus and concentration, 24-7," said Enos, who also is quarterbacks coach. "What I mean by that is not having a lapse in practice where we don't send a guy in motion or we don't check something out on the backside."

Enos also wanted Allen to take another step into his offensive philosophy.

"Just to focus the entire practice. From the meeting until the end of practice, I didn't want him to have any lapses in his focus and his intensity," Enos said. "And he's really done that. He's had a couple of little deals. But for the most part, he's been really accurate."

With more than four months remaining before the Hogs' season opener Aug. 31 against Florida A&M, Enos is liking what he's seeing from Allen in all areas of his game.

"He's had a tremendous spring," Enos said. "Austin is as good and comfortable and poised and accurate as I've seen him, and this will be my third spring.

"He's playing at a very high level. He still makes mistakes like they all do, but he really understands what we're doing and he can coach other guys. He anticipates things now and I can't say enough about him."

Allen led the SEC last season with 3,430 passing yards, and he ranked second with 25 touchdown passes, third with a 146.04 efficiency rating, and third with 263.8 passing yards per game. He led the conference with 15 interceptions and was fifth with in completion percentage (61.1).

Coach Bret Bielema has said he expected Allen's improvement arc to parallel that of Brandon Allen, who got better each season and capped his Arkansas career with a strong senior year.

Peter Burns of SEC Network posted spring quarterback rankings for the conference Wednesday, and he had Arkansas at No. 1, a direct reflection of Allen's performance as a first-year starter last year and his capacity for improving as a senior.

Enos thinks his unit's continued concentration on footwork is paying off for Allen.

"His foot quickness right now is as good as I've ever seen it," he said. "We've done a lot of ladder work and things like that. He's playing with quick feet. He's playing with active feet and he's playing on balance right now. He's playing very well."

The battle for backup quarterback has not been settled between sophomore Ty Storey and redshirt freshman Cole Kelley.

Storey is 14 of 24 for 148 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions, in the 2 Saturday scrimmages. Kelley is 10 of 19 for 136 yards, with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

"They're battling," Enos said. "They're doing good. It's been nip and tuck. ... One of them really hasn't grabbed the reins and just taken it. They've both done really good and they've both made some mistakes where they've set back and then evened each other out."

Bielema pointed out that the added blitz pressure Saturday was revealing for the quarterbacks.

"The one thing Austin does really well, probably better than the other guys, he stepped up [in the pocket] and made plays," Bielema said. "When they're coming from the edge, our protection allows guys to run them up the field with the idea that the quarterback is going to step up. Again, just because Austin has more experience, that went well.

"I know Dan got all over Cole. He tried to jump out to the right and that's not the right answer. You want to step up and make plays."

Bielema said the backups have provided a mixed bag of results.

"They do a lot of really good things," he said. "I think Ty has a great comprehension of what we're asking him to do. He's throwing the ball really, really well. And of course, mentally, he's as sharp as they come. But he just needs reps under pressure. Cole, he made some really good throws. But he gets into the habit a little bit of he wants to baby the throw or kind of slide it or push it in there. He's just got to step up there and use his footwork and deliver strikes and good things will happen."

Enos said he's been impressed by the guys behind the top three: redshirt freshmen Carson Proctor and Jack Lindsey and true freshman Daulton Hyatt.

"I think we're really deep at quarterback right now," he said. "It's nice to see. It's a great room. We have fun in there. We learn in there. We work in there. We've got good players in there."

Sports on 04/21/2017