FAYETTEVILLE -- Brandon Allen's status as a two-year starter at quarterback will give Arkansas the kind of edge at that position in the rugged SEC West that perhaps only Mississippi State, with veteran Dak Prescott returning, can match.
Coach Bret Bielema said Allen is making such strong progress that his challenge heading into 2015 needs to be matching up with the best quarterbacks in the SEC. The Razorbacks are also pushing to have a backup at quarterback who can enter a game, take command and operate with good efficiency.
RETURNING STARTER Brandon Allen
KEY LOSSES None
WHO’S BACK Austin Allen, Rafe Peavey
WHO’S NEW Ty Storey
BREAKDOWN Brandon Allen is prepared to become a third-year starter, the first at Arkansas since Matt Jones in 2004. Allen showed he can play well in big games in 2014 as he improved his completion percentage by nearly seven percentage points to 56 percent. He should be able to approach 60 percent this year. Austin Allen played in a limited role as a backup in 2014 and is the only other signal caller with college experience. If the three players above him stay healthy, Storey could benefit from a redshirt season. Storey, 6-3, 211 pounds, is the biggest Arkansas player at the position.
New offensive coordinator Dan Enos has split reps pretty evenly this spring between redshirt sophomore Austin Allen and redshirt freshman Rafe Peavey on the second team. True freshman Ty Storey, an early enrollee, is getting his feet under him and already is showing that his upside is big while he heads toward a likely redshirt season.
After Saturday's workout, a modified scrimmage day that featured work on the outdoor practice fields before rain moved the workout to Walker Pavilion, Bielema said Austin Allen is the No. 2 quarterback behind his brother.
Austin Allen had a better two-minute performance at the end of Saturday's work than Peavey, who threw an interception to safety Ryder Lucas in an intermediate zone.
"Austin, right there at the end of the two-minute drill, was just throwing the ball extremely well," Bielema said. "I don't know how much I'd say he's ahead of Rafe because Rafe is doing some really nice things."
Bielema said longevity might be the biggest factor separating the second-teamers.
"Austin's been in our program a little bit longer, more in tune, but I think Rafe has continued to come along and is right there nipping," Bielema said. "It might be 2A, 2B more than anything.
"And I"ll tell you what, Ty had a nice week as well. Ty's playing as well as he has since he's been here."
Austin Allen did not escape without an interception Saturday. His pass for Cameron Colbert over the deep middle was tipped in the air and defensive back Kevin Richardson came down with it in one-on-one work. Also, linebacker Josh Harris stretched out to make an interception of Austin Allen's pass over the middle during a skeleton period.
Austin Allen is the only Razorback quarterback with snaps as a reserve. He was 8 of 16 for 153 yards with 1 interception and no touchdowns in 5 games last year. His most important work came while closing out Arkansas' 30-0 victory over Ole Miss after Brandon Allen injured his right oblique muscle. Austin Allen entered with the score 17-0 midway through the second quarter and was 3 of 5 for 65 yards.
Some observers argued Bielema should have played Austin Allen the next week at Missouri when his older brother was struggling badly with his accuracy in the third quarter of Arkansas' 21-14 loss. But Bielema said after the game he still thought Brandon Allen with a sore oblique, which was not allowing him to follow through on passes, gave the Razorbacks a better shot at winning the game.
Austin Allen has pushed himself to make that scenario a harder decision for Bielema in 2015.
"I'm feeling very comfortable with everything," Austin Allen said. "I feel like I'm the veteran out there in the No. 2 huddle now.
"I'm just trying to get in the playbook and know where to go with the ball, make quicker decisions this year and not hold on to the ball."
Austin Allen had strong performances in Arkansas' first two scrimmages of the spring, combining to complete 17 of 20 passes for 227 yards and 3 touchdowns. Peavey went 7 of 13 for 67 yards in the two scrimmages.
"Both of them are ... students of the game in the fact that it's very important to them," Enos said earlier in the spring. "They ask a lot of questions. They do a lot of study and work on their own. I like both of them and they've had about equal reps."
Enos pointed out that operating the second offense has had its challenges this spring because so many of the linemen are newcomers.
"We've got five guys who should be seniors in high school out there right now," Austin Allen said. "I'm just going in there and being around the program and buying in."
Peavey, whose running skills are an asset in addition to a strong arm, has had the scrambling part of his game nullified to a degree with the quarterbacks off limits this spring. He said his redshirt season last year proved valuable.
"It's like night and day honestly," Peavey said. "I'm starting my third semester here, so I'm getting used to school and that helps a whole lot. ... Everything is just really slowing down now.
"I just try to focus on what I can do and I just try to get 1 percent better every single day. That's the kind of mentality I have, so I'm not worried about who is above me or who is below me."
Brandon Allen said his brother is making progress at being more of a take-charge quarterback, the same issue he had to push himself on as a younger player.
"It's kind of what you want in a QB, that calmness, but there's a time where you're going to want to take charge and maybe rip someone's butt who wasn't doing something right," he said. "I think that's going to come with him. That's what it was for me early on. I wasn't that take-charge kind of guy, and I think with just the years to come it's going to come for him."
Sports on 04/19/2015