The Arkansas Razorbacks just wrapped up their second week of spring practice over the weekend after not having any the week before.
Head coach Bret Bielema and his staff are hard at work not only trying to get their players ready for the spring game on April 26 and the start of the season in August, but also evaluating which guys are stepping up and making a case to win position battles.
So far, the Hogs have held six practices, with three in Week 2—including a big scrimmage on Saturday.
Headlines From Week 2
The biggest headline from last week was the large-scale scrimmage the Razorbacks held on Saturday that spanned 101 plays.
The first three quarters were not played like a regular game, as the ball was placed between the 20- and 35-yard lines. Even if the offense made a big play, the next snap was placed back inside that 15-yard area of the field. The chains did not come into play until the fourth quarter.
The scrimmage had the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense, the No. 2 offense—with quarterbacks A.J. Derby and Austin Allen splitting time—against the No. 2 defense and the No. 3 offense—alternating Rafe Peavey and Damon Mitchell—against the No. 3 defense.
Players that were notably absent during the scrimmage were defensive end Trey Flowers, running back Korliss Marshall and wideouts Demetrius Wilson and Eric Hawkins.
According to Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com (subscription required), Bielema won't scrimmage Flowers this spring to avoid injuring the team's best rush end.
Marshall is dealing with an undisclosed injury and Hawkins, who is dealing with concussion symptoms from Tuesday's practice, only participated in drills. Wilson is still not ready for live contact after missing last year with a torn ACL.
Other notable players who did not scrimmage were receiver D'Arthur Cowan, who is not with the team this spring to focus on academics, and Kelvin Fisher Jr., who was seen sitting in the stands.
Position Battle Updates
Arkansas might have more position battles going on than any other team in the SEC after not winning a game in the conference for the first time since joining in 1992.
The big one is at quarterback.
So far, Brandon Allen has separated himself from the rest of the group and had a very impressive outing in the team's scrimmage. The emerging junior showed off great accuracy, completing 17 of 20 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown.
His only blemish came on his last pass, which was picked off by safety Alan Turner. At one point, he connected on 12 straight attempts.
Bielema told the Associated Press that Allen has stepped up in a big way so far during the spring:
He looks different physically. He plays different. He's got so much composure. What I love there, not that I wanted to see it, but when we had a couple guys jump offsides, he really let the huddle have an awareness of what we needed to do and what was expected. You like your quarterback to step up in that fashion and I think he's done it.
Peavey, who many believed was Allen's biggest threat to win the starting job, threw just three passes, completing all of them for 36 yards. With the way Allen has been performing, it seems like Peavey is fighting an uphill battle.
You also have to give Derby his props. No one has really considered him a legitimate threat for the starting job, but he has continued to impress and had another solid day in the scrimmage, completing nine of 13 passes passes for 151 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Biddy reported that, despite Derby's progress, Bielema said the race between Allen and little brother Austin is "tight."
The Hogs are also looking for wideouts to step up behind Keon Hatcher and Wilson, and they saw some candidates Saturday.
Though he recorded no stats in 2013 as a freshman, Drew Morgan was the top receiver in the scrimmage, catching five balls for 108 yards. He has a great sense of where to exploit holes in the defense and has an uncanny ability to get open.
Cody Hollister has probably been the most impressive out of the bunch, considering Rivals.com ranked him as just a 2-star recruit out of the JUCO ranks. He has shown that ranking to be a fluke thus far, displaying great hands and route running. Hollister had three receptions on Saturday for 38 yards.
Freshman Jared Cornelius also had a nice day with four catches for 60 yards.
All three are making a case to have impact roles in 2014.
You also can't forget 2014 commit JoJo Robinson, who will make a big push for an impact role once he arrives in the fall.
Bielema is also looking for an impact tight end to line up opposite Hunter Henry, and Jeremy Sprinkle looks to be that guy. He has reliable hands and is a very good athlete. Sprinkle hauled in three passes for 74 yards in the scrimmage.
Other News and Headlines
According to Danny West of HawgSports.com, there were six recruits in attendance on Saturday. They included 2014 commit running back Juan Day, quarterback Ty Storey (2015), tight end Josh Moore (2015), defensive end Marquavius Lewis (2015), defensive end Daytrieon Dean (2015) and linebacker Deontre Hardwick (2016).
With Flowers not scrimmaging this spring, redshirt sophomore Deatrich Wise started in his place at right end. Bielema has stated that Wise is making significant strides and that "physically, there's not a better-looking football player than Wise."
With his progression, the Hogs could have a formidable pass-rushing duo with Flowers.
Offensive tackle Dan Skipper was pulled from the scrimmage after getting into a fight on the field and taking a couple swings. Biddy reported that phenom Alex Collins also got a little too emotional, throwing a punch at senior safety Tiquention Coleman, which resulted in him also being taken to the sideline.
Bielema noted that he wants his team to be aggressive, but not to the point where punches are flying.
Also, keep an eye on redshirt freshman running back Denzell Evans. He is going to have a hard time seeing a lot of carries in 2014 with Collins, Marshall and Jonathan Williams ahead of him, but he displayed surprising speed and elusiveness despite his 6'0", 222-pound frame.
Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.
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