Arkansas football: Previewing the quarterback position

Over the course of the offseason, we will be previewing some of the main positions for the Arkansas football team. We will start off with the most important position on the field and one that has to see better play if the Razorbacks want to have a more successful season.

The quarterback position is one that Arkansas fans have been spoiled with in the recent past with Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson along with the high-powered offense of Bobby Petrino, but since their departure, it has been a burden for the team.

During the spring, the position battle went from a five-man competition, to a three-man race.

A.J. Derby, an old linebacker who saw time last year when Brandon Allen was injured, has made an almost seemingless transition to the tight end spot and will see major playing time.

Dual-threat quarterback Damon “Duwop” Mitchell was apparently falling far behind the other four QBs and was encouraged to switch positions as well. He flourished at the receiver position during the spring game and also saw time as a return man.

With these changes that leaves us with returning starter Brandon Allen, his younger brother Austin, who is a redshirt freshman, and the highly recruited Rafe Peavey. Let’s take a look at each guy individually and see how they could contribute to the team along with some problems with their game.

Brandon Allen

The Fayetteville native started all 11 games in his sophomore campaign, only missing the Rutgers game, and threw for 1,552 yards which isn’t too impressive. Along with the small amount of total yards Allen had a 49.6% completion percentage and added 10 interceptions, some of them detrimental pick-sixes.

Anytime your team loses the last nine games of the year the quarterback is going to take some heat and Allen had an alibi of an injured shoulder all last season that has reportedly fully healed. Bielema is high on Allen and says that he is leaps and bounds above the other quarterbacks, but I’m still not too convinced.

The two glaring problems that I continue to see from Allen are that he is late on most of his throws and that he stares down his receivers. You can have an excuse for doing some of these things as a freshman or early in your sophomore year, but in your fourth year on campus, these are inexcusable.

Check out some footage from the spring game. The second play that the first offense ran from scrimmage was an interception from Allen and while the ball was tipped, the two glaring problems that he has struggled with become evident in this one play.

This looks eerily similar to the same types of mistakes that Allen was making a year ago.

52:05 mark- Allen once again trying to throw the slant route takes too much time and stares down his receiver. This one should’ve been a pick six by Coleman, but he just managed to tip it.

Allen did make some decent throws in the spring game and I’m not making any rash judgments off one meaningless game. One in which your playbook is limited and the defense sometimes knows what you’re running from your alignment, but these are rookie mistakes and I really hoped to see improvement in these areas from Allen this year.

Also, when is the last time you can remember a deep ball that has actually been completed with Allen under center. There’s not one time that I can remember a deep pass for a large gain or a touchdown. Arkansas big-play inability was a problem last season and still may be one that needs work on in the passing game.

Allen has potential, but his time is running short and if he doesn’t improve this season, then it may be time to work with some of the younger guys if he’s still not getting the job done. I was anxious to see of his development in the offseason, but I saw his same tendencies as last year.

Don’t get me wrong, I want Allen to do well just as much as any Hog fan, but this team cannot continue to have game-changing turnovers like a season ago.

Austin Allen

After watching the pregame warm-ups with the quarterbacks and receivers before the spring game, I thought that Austin threw the best ball out of the three.

He has decent velocity, and nice spiral on nearly every throw and he gets the ball out on time which his brother seems to have trouble with. The only thing that will keep Austin from playing like many inexperienced QBs is his decision making.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on in practice with such limited access, but in the spring game, Austin made a couple of really bad decisions.

At 45:25- Austin makes a freshman mistake on a slant route, much like his brother, and stares down his receiver to make it a walk in the park, pic-six for Gaines.

He also had another interception off a a tipped ball that was thrown a little behind his receiver, but Austin showed a lot of potential with some other throws in the game.

54:13- This is the best play that I think Austin makes all day. He looks hard right to draw the defense over and throws a perfectly place ball to the outside for a conversion on fourth and long.

On the very next play Austin throws a decent ball for a touchdown, but one that more than likely should’ve been picked off. I’m not real sure what Gaines was doing on that play, but you have to throw an absolute rocket into the window between the corner and safety for that play to work. Granted, I don’t know if Austin used all of his arm strength on that play or not, but that may show of his lack of velocity that he could improve on. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a nice touchdown pass for Austin.

Rafe Peavey

Some people need to temper expectations and settle down with the thoughts of  Peavey being a starter, for this year at least.

Yes, he is a tremendous athlete and yes, he has a remarkable upside, but keep in mind that he is young.  Really young. He was  supposed to still be in a high school classroom while he was playing in the spring game.

Peavey could very well turn into a program saving quarterback in the near future, but for right now let’s give him some experience.

While watching Peavey, one glaring impression that I took was how smooth his mechanics were. He gathered himself nicely after catching the snap and delivered a well thrown ball in a very calm motion during warmups. However, while in the game he seemed a little anxious, which is expected when you go from a crowd of a couple thousand people in highschool to 30,000 in a college spring game.

At 1:16:10- Peavey shows you of some inexperience jitters with his “happy feet” while dropping back, but also shows you what he can do on the run, something that the Allen brothers don’t necessarily possess.

1:28:00- This is why Peavey may be a special player. He senses the pocket collapsing and uses his remarkably quick feet for a substantial gain. Obviously in the spring game the play is blown dead when the quarterback runs, but you can catch a glimpse of Peavey’s athletic ability in the pocket.

If you haven’t seen Peavey yet, here’s his high school highlights.

When it’s all said and done I will be extremely surprised if Brandon Allen doesn’t come out to be the overwhelming starter barring an injury this season. He’s just got too much experience and Bielema says that he’s his guy. Now that he’s healthy, maybe he can finally turn things around from the quarterback position.

However, if he struggles like he did a year ago, you may see one of the younger guys get a shot. Austin will more than likely stay at the second string position right behind his brother, but Peavey will be right on his heels behind him.

If all goes as planned and there are no injuries to Brandon, Bielema and staff may opt to redshirt Peavey which I think will happen. However, if there is a situation like last year, it’s free game between the two younger guys on who will get playing time.

Keep in mind that the quarterback position for a Bielema style offense does not need a Ryan Mallett or Tyler Wilson to be successful. There are not a lot of shotgun, five-wide sets with nothing but deep routes.

Being a game manager is mostly what is asked of these QBs. Making the open throws to keep the defense honest, completing check down routes, and play-action passes are basically the roles of a Bielema style quarterback.

It’s hard to see a large amount of wins for the Arkansas football team if this position does not see a dramatic change in production.

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