Arkansas Football: 4 Players Who Should See Their Roles Expanded in 2014
As bad as 2013 was for the Arkansas Razorbacks in head coach Bret Bielema's first season, it is in the past and the focus is now fully on preparing for the 2014 campaign.
There are a lot of holes to fill and positions to shore up. Every position is going to have open battles for spots in the starting lineup, and that means that there are going to be players seeing much more time on the field this season compared to 2013.
Some will be making big impacts for the first time, while others will see their roles get even bigger and more complex. Here, we take a look at the four players for the Hogs who will see their roles expanded for the 2014 season.
Running Back Alex Collins
It's hard to believe Alex Collins having a bigger role than he did after a record-breaking freshman season, but he is going to see his work load increase in his second year.
Collins started off 2013 on a tear, becoming the first freshman back in SEC history to rush for over 100 yards in each of his first three games. However, Bielema chose to protect his young asset's legs and body by reducing his carries as the season wore on.
After carrying the ball at least 20 times in his first three games, Collins never had more than 18 attempts the last nine games. In the last three games, he had a combined 31 carries for an average of 10.3 per game.
It was no surprise to see Bielema opt to keep Collins' future in his mind by reducing his carries as time went on. Anyone who follows football knows that preserving young running backs' longevity by limiting their number of carries is what a lot of coaches do, especially with big-time talents like Collins.
But you can expect his attempts to go up during his sophomore year.
Collins averaged 15.8 rushes per game in 2013. That number won't increase a lot because of fellow back Jonathan Williams, who will get his fair share of carries, but it could be anywhere from 18 to 20 a game in 2014.
There's just too much going for Collins to not give him more carries in his second season. His ball-carrying vision is well advanced for a back his age, and he has the ability to run over defenders with power or scoot by them with his quick feet and strong juke moves.
You should also see the Hogs use Collins more around the goal line and run the ball more in general when threatening. Arkansas had just 14 rushing touchdowns all last season, and Collins had only four. If the Razorbacks want to win games, they must play to their strengths.
With a big, physical offensive line and talented backs, the Hogs need to run the ball more when they are inside the red zone. That means giving the ball to Collins and Williams, who also had just four touchdowns, a lot more.
With one of the best backs in the country, Bielema knows that having the ball in the hands of Collins more is going to give his team a better shot at winning games. He is only going to get better, and his role is only going to get bigger.
Tight End Hunter Henry
With Austin Tate gone, emerging sophomore Hunter Henry is now the Hogs' No. 1 tight end and one of their best receiving threats.
Henry was named to the 2013 Sporting News Freshman All-American Team, alongside Collins, after hauling in 28 balls for 409 yards and four touchdowns. He was second on the team in receptions and yards and tied for first in receiving touchdowns.
It appears that Henry will be the No. 2 pass-catcher on the team in 2014 behind Keon Hatcher, who also emerged as a playmaker toward the end of the season.
When it comes to mismatches, Henry creates a lot of them with his size and hands against linebackers who have the task of covering him. Henry isn't the fastest guy, yet he still manages to get behind defenders and make big plays down the field.
In fact, he led the Hogs in yards per catch (minimum 10 receptions) at 14.6 and had five games with a catch over 20 yards. Bielema and his staff are going to draw up more ways to utilize Henry's tools next season and exploit the mismatches he creates.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see his numbers take considerable jumps in year two. Look for Henry to have somewhere around 40 receptions and possibly over 600 yards receiving. However, his production largely hinges on the quarterback play, which was shaky at best last season.
Still, regardless of who the quarterback is, Henry is going to be one of his top targets. He has the skill set to be one of the nation's top tight ends, and there's a very good chance you will see that in 2014.
Wide Receiver Keon Hatcher
As stated in the last slide, the No. 1 wideout spot looks to be Hatcher's to lose. After having just 11 catches for 125 yards in the Razorbacks' first eight games, he exploded for 16 receptions and 221 yards in the last four.
His performance at LSU showed just how good Hatcher can be. He hauled in seven balls for 84 yards in the season finale and was a huge reason why the Hogs nearly upset the Tigers in Death Valley.
What stands out about Hatcher is his frame. At 6'2", 215 pounds, he is able to use his body to shield off defensive backs and physically overman them. He also has good speed and has soft hands. Quarterback Brandon Allen began to develop a strong pass-catch relationship with him toward the end of the year as Hatcher showed he was a reliable target.
Losing leading receiver Javontee Herndon sets up Hatcher to be the team's top wideout in 2014. With that will come many more balls thrown his way, resulting in a considerable amount more of receptions, yards and touchdowns.
He is going to be Arkansas' most experienced receiver on an otherwise very inexperienced group. He and Henry are the only returning wideouts with over 10 catches. In other words, the Hogs are counting on him to step up and be "the guy" in 2014.
Hatcher has the ability to be the No. 1 wideout for Arkansas in 2014. There's a lot of pressure on him to step out of the shadows and be an impact player and whether he does that remains to be seen. But there is no doubt his role is set to be widely expanded.
Linebacker Brooks Ellis
Linebacker Brooks Ellis was so under the radar last year that a look through the files yields no pictures of him in action during his freshman season. It took until over halfway through the season for Brooks to show he has the potential to be Arkansas' starting middle linebacker for the next three seasons.
Ellis impressed Bielema and the staff enough to start the last few games in the middle for the Hogs and performed valiantly during that time.
He totaled 33 tackles on the year, including 2.0 tackles for loss and 0.5 sack. His role in 2014 is going to be much bigger than his first year. Provided he does what we all think he will this offseason and nabs the starting spot in the middle, there is a good chance he could lead the team in tackles as a sophomore.
He plays from sideline to sideline and has great instincts in pursuit of the ball. He also has good athleticism, which should allow him to do well in coverage situations.
Out of all four of these guys, Ellis is who we know the least about in game action. That is going to change next year. By the time the season is halfway over in his second year, everyone should be well acquainted with his exploits.
The Razorbacks have a lot of young talent and are going to need it to step up in 2014 and lead the Razorbacks out of the SEC cellar. Make no mistake, things are changing around the program, and these four guys are going to see their roles upgraded drastically in Bielema's second season as the head Hog.
Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.
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