Arkansas Football: Predicting Razorbacks' 2014 2-Deep Depth Chart
Following spring practice and leading up to the start of the season, one of the most discussed topics in college football for any program is the depth chart.
Who will start here and who will start there? Who is going to back up the starter? And of course, who gives the team the best chance to win? These are all relevant questions when talking about a program's depth chart.
For a lot of programs, including the Arkansas Razorbacks, the two-deep depth chart hasn't been constructed yet by coaches. Luckily for Hogs fans though, you won't have to wait for head coach Bret Bielema to release one.
Instead of waiting, we decided to predict the depth chart based on every player's performance in the past and during the spring. So, let's take a look at which players should be listed on the two-deep depth chart when it is released.
Starter: RS JR Brandon Allen
Backup: RS FR Austin Allen
This ended up being one of the easier positions to predict. Heading into the spring, there was a huge quarterback controversy after Brandon Allen's struggles in 2013.
There was a wide-open battle for the starting spot, but things became clear very quickly. Simply put, Brandon has the most experience and the best grasp of the offense. He is the most ready to play. Right now, he gives Arkansas its best chance to win.
There were a number of reasons why he had such a rough go last year, including a nagging shoulder injury and a less-than-stellar receiving corps.
The emergence of several other wideouts this spring should help him a lot in 2014, as should a fully healed shoulder. He closed out 2013 on a high note and had a very productive spring, making him the clear choice for the starting job.
Younger brother Austin also had a good spring and stood out the most behind Brandon. Freshman Rafe Peavey probably has the biggest upside of the three, but he didn't see a ton of reps in spring ball, which indicates he'll spend his first year, at least to begin with, as the No. 3.
JR Jonathan Williams
SO Alex Collins
The two-deep depth chart for running back can pretty much be thrown out the window. Whether Jonathan Williams or Alex Collins is listed as the starter doesn't matter because both are going to split the majority of the carries.
In one of the worst seasons in school history, the running game was a big bright spot.
In large part thanks to Collins and Williams, the Hogs finished the season ranked No. 21 in the country in rushing yards per game at 208.7. Williams built on a good freshman year by rushing for 900 yards on 150 carries (6.0 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. Despite another solid season, he was overshadowed by Collins' historic freshman campaign.
Collins began his college career by becoming the first back in a conference that is rich in history at the position to rush for more than 100 yards in each of his first three games. He posted 1,026 yards on 190 carries (5.4 yards per carry) and four touchdowns, becoming just the second back in school history to eclipse 1,000 yards in his freshman year.
With the emergence of more playmakers at receiver this spring, the Hogs should have a much better passing attack. That would force defenses not to stack the box and also give Collins and Williams more opportunities to make big plays. The offensive line is more experienced and deep, which should also help their cause.
Though this is a discussion of the two-deep depth chart, sophomore Korliss Marshall is going to see a lot more action this year. He only had 17 attempts in 2013 but averaged 8.6 yards per carry and had a terrific spring. He dazzled in the Red-White Game, leading all backs with 99 yards on just six carries (16.5 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. He's a home run threat every time he touches the ball.
Starter: JR Keon Hatcher
Backup: FR Jared Cornelius
Starter: RS SR Demetrius Wilson
Backup: RS SO Eric Hawkins
What was a huge concern heading into the offseason could now be a strength for the offense. Bielema watched as a number of wideouts stepped up and showed they can make big contributions in the spring.
Several receivers could play their way onto the two-deep depth chart, so this is probably the hardest position to predict. Because there are quite a few possibilities, we will leave out JoJo Robinson for now, a highly touted 4-star receiver, per 247Sports, who will arrive in the fall and has a good shot at contributing early.
The most concrete in the lineup is Keon Hatcher, who is the top returning wideout from last year. He really came on toward the end of the season, finishing with 27 catches, 346 yards and two touchdowns. He was one of, if not the most, consistent wideouts on the team this spring and had a team-leading five receptions in the Red-White Game. He will be the Razorbacks' No. 1 receiver in 2014.
Behind Hatcher, it gets more unclear.
Demetrius Wilson seems to be the safest bet to be the other starter. He looked like the best receiver on the team following spring practices last year, but he tore his ACL prior to the start of the season. Coaches held him out this spring to allow him to continue to heal. Even if he doesn't start, he will be one of the top wideouts because of his experience, playmaking ability and size.
Assuming Hatcher and Wilson start, the battle to back them up is where it gets really interesting.
You have the newcomers—Jared Cornelius and Cody Hollister—and the veterans—D'Arthur Cowan and Eric Hawkins.
Cornelius and Hollister, a JUCO transfer who will be a sophomore, both had outstanding springs. Hollister might just have the best hands of the group. He's a possession receiver who caught almost every pass thrown to him. He probably won't make the two-deep depth chart this year, but expect him to see the field quite often.
Fellow first-year Hog Cornelius displayed his playmaking ability all spring. He made acrobatic catches throughout and showed how dangerous he can be after the catch. When he has the ball in space, he uses his speed and elusiveness to turn small-to-moderate gains into first downs or big chunks of yardage.
Cowan picked the wrong time to have academic issues with a lot of guys stepping up. He can be a special player; however, it hurts that he missed out on most of the spring because of grades. He will have some catching up to do this fall, but luckily, he has experience.
The Hogs also have Hawkins, who caught a 45-yard touchdown pass in the spring game. He isn't a big guy (6'0", 180 pounds), but he has great speed and acceleration. He's another wideout who can stretch defenses with his speed. He is a good route-runner and looks ready to break through this year.
Arkansas also has sophomore Drew Morgan and redshirt freshman Damon Mitchell.
Morgan really looked impressive this spring and could be a dangerous slot option. He's a speedster and just seems to have a knack for getting separation from defenders. He recorded four catches for 39 yards in the spring game.
Mitchell, a converted quarterback, showed real promise at the wideout position. Bielema had some positive things to say about him to Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com (subscription required) after the spring game: "He said he was going to come back and try the wide receiver position. I think Saturday if you asked anybody leaving the stadium who made the biggest impression on them, he'd be one of two or three people."
There's no concrete answer for the wideouts' two-deep depth chart. That's a good thing though, because it means that a healthy competition is going on. The Razorbacks lacked playmakers at the position in 2013, but the group will be much stronger in 2014.
Starter: SO Hunter Henry
Backup: RS FR Jeremy Sprinkle
One of the biggest strengths on the entire team is tight end. The Razorbacks have one of the best young tight ends in the country in Hunter Henry.
He is one of the most surefire starters on the team after a spectacular freshman campaign. He was second on the team in receiving yards (409) and receptions (28) and had four touchdowns.
At 6'6", 245 pounds, he's a matchup nightmare. He has soft hands that catch just about everything thrown in his vicinity. He is also great at getting behind the defense and making big plays. He led all receivers on the team with an average of 14.6 yards per carry (minimum 10 receptions).
Along with Collins, Henry was named to the 2013 Sporting News Freshman All-American team. The future is very bright for him.
It's also bright for his backup, Jeremy Sprinkle. Like Henry, Sprinkle is a tough matchup at 6'6", 237 pounds. He's still learning the position, but he has vast potential and is going to see the field a lot more this year. He gives the Hogs a dynamic duo at tight end and has the skills to be a huge playmaker for Arkansas.
Starter: SO Dan Skipper
Backup: RS JR Austin Beck
Starter: SR Brey Cook
Backup: RS JR Grady Ollison
The physical stature of the Hogs offensive line alone is impressive. With O-line coach Sam Pittman tutoring and recruiting the unit, it is steadily becoming a force to be reckoned with.
We'll start with offensive tackle, where Arkansas has a number of guys who will be making a case to earn a starting spot.
At left tackle, Dan Skipper is cemented in as the starter. Massive doesn't even begin to describe this 6'10", 315-pound mammoth of a man. He was still a little raw coming out of high school, but he learned quickly during his freshman year and became a starter. Skipper played at left guard most of the time, but with Reeve Koehler ready to go, Skipper will anchor at left tackle.
His backup will most likely be Austin Beck. He is also pretty massive at 6'7", 305 pounds. He's very good at run blocking but has a tendency to get beaten or hold while pass blocking. He's not bad at pass blocking, but Skipper has already surpassed him in both aspects.
Brey Cook started last year at right tackle and will do the same in 2014. Grady Ollison will back him up and rotate in to give Cook rest. But he's entrenched behind Cook, so don't expect Ollison to start unless Cook gets hurt.
Beck and Ollison's jobs as the backups are in no way safe with some very talented prospects coming in. Frank Ragnow and Brian Wallace are two 4-star freshmen, per 247Sports, who will push the older guys for playing time.
Ollison will have to fend off Wallace for the backup job at right tackle, and Beck will have to do the same on the left side with Ragnow.
Starter: RS FR Reeve Koehler
Backup: RS JR Mitch Smothers
Starter: SO Denver Kirkland
Backup: RS JR Marcus Danenhauer
Before Reeve Koehler could even show what made him a 4-star recruit last year, he suffered a knee injury that forced him to redshirt. He's healthy again and is not only the most talented player to anchor at left guard but the best option.
Despite Mitch Smothers' experience, Koehler is more athletic and well-rounded. The only thing that could really hold back Koehler is his knee. As long as he keeps it and himself healthy, he'll start at left guard with Smothers backing him up.
The right guard slot should be filled by Denver Kirkland, who started there most of his freshman season. He is yet another young stud on this up-and-coming Arkansas O-line. He still has some work to do as a pass-blocker, but he's a natural run-blocker who has the athleticism to set up blocks downfield.
Kirkland is the clear starter at right guard, leaving Marcus Danenhauer to back him up.
The abundance of young talent on the Hogs O-line is as good as any team in the country. Take it as a good thing that all these young players are beating out vets for starting spots. That should tell you just how good the talent is becoming.
Starter: SR Luke Charpentier
Backup: RS SO Cordale Boyd
There is no speculation as to who is going to be the starter at center. That job belongs to Luke Charpentier, a senior who has spent the majority of his career backing up departed All-SEC performer Travis Swanson.
Charpentier has experience and got to learn from a great college center in Swanson. He only has one year to start, but he gives Arkansas a strong, reliable snapper and blocker in the trenches.
His backup will be Cordale Boyd, who saw action in nine games last year at guard.
Unless Charpentier needs to take a quick breather or gets injured, don't expect to see a lot of Boyd. It's not that he's bad, it's just center is a position you don't mix up and rotate a whole lot. Boyd also hasn't played center in a game, so Coach Bielema won't want to mess up the ever-so-important fluidity of the snap to Allen.
A quarterback gets used to the snap and timing between him and his center, and rotating in another guy a lot can mess that up and cause turnovers. So, the Hogs are counting on Charpentier to be Mr. Durable/Reliable and snap the ball on the vast majority of the plays in 2014.
Starter: FR Bijhon Jackson
Backup: RS JR DeMarcus Hodge
Starter: RS SO Darius Philon
Backup: RS SO Horace Arkadie
Things are going to get very interesting this fall in the battle for one of the starting defensive tackle slots.
I say one because Darius Philon has one of the two spots locked up. After redshirting his first year in 2012, he made a huge statement in 2013, recording 46 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. Those numbers for an interior D-lineman are pretty good, to say the least.
His stellar play led to him starting, a role he will retain as a sophomore. He had a great spring and was a force in the spring game with six tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack. Horace Arkadie, who has seen very limited action thus far in his career, should be ready to step up and make an impact as a backup to Philon.
Now, to the other spot, where things are going to be heated.
DeMarcus Hodge might seem like the obvious choice to start at the other tackle spot, given his experience and talent. He appeared in 11 games last year, making 27 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack. Hodge is athletic for his size, but Bielema told HawgSports.com's Trey Biddy that he needs to lose some weight.
Hodge is a good player; don't get that twisted. But true freshman Bijhon Jackson is one of the best interior prospects the Hogs have gotten in some time.
He's not only going to push for a lot of paying time, I believe he'll be the starter from Game 1 at Auburn. That's a roll of the dice, as he may not start the first game but will move into the starting spot a few weeks into 2014.
It's a decision I'm confident to stand by based on Jackson's pure talent and work ethic.
He hasn't even had his first practice as a Hog yet, and if you compare him side by side with Hodge, he's already a lot better in a number of aspects. He has a much faster first step, better explosiveness and higher motor.
Jackson and Philon next to each other in the middle could become one of the best inside duos in the country.
Starter: RS SO Deatrich Wise Jr.
Backup: RS SO Brandon Lewis
Starter: SR Trey Flowers
Backup: RS SO JaMichael Winston
The emergence of Deatrich Wise Jr. at left end this offseason all of a sudden has the D-line looking like it could be an athletic and scary opponent for O-lines to handle.
He had just 17 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks while appearing in all 12 games, but his spring was off the charts, showing that he's ready to take that next step.
Just take the Red-White Game, for example. He was by far the best defender on the field, racking up an eye-popping eight tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks. Even in a spring game, those are impressive numbers.
Brandon Lewis had been giving him a tough battle for the starting spot, but after Wise's spring, the job looks to be his.
Opposite him will be Trey Flowers, who has the starting spot on the right side locked up. Over the last two years, he has made 94 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss and 11.0 sacks. He is the Hogs' most experienced D-lineman and a real threat to get into the backfield off the edge. His backup should be JaMichael Winston, who has seen the field mostly on special teams so far.
If Wise turns the corner during the season like he did in the spring, Arkansas' D-line could be one of the best in the SEC.
Not only will the Razorbacks have Flowers and Wise's pass-rushing skills coming off the edge, but they will also have Jackson and Philon creating chaos on the inside.
Starter: JR Otha Peters
Backup: FR Dwayne Eugene
Starter: SO Brooks Ellis
Backup: RS FR Alex Brignoni
Starter: SR Martrell Spaight
Backup: RS SR Braylon Mitchell
Predicting the two-deep chart at linebacker is a little more challenging. The Hogs currently have Brooks Ellis in the middle at "Mike," Martrell Spaight at "Will" and Braylon Mitchell at "Sam." However, if Bielema wants his three best linebackers on the field, he'll have to make some changes.
The top three linebackers are Ellis, Spaight and Otha Peters, who is backing up Ellis in the middle. To avoid stacking Ellis and Peters at the same spot, Bielema needs to move Ellis to Will and Spaight from Will to Sam in order to allow Peters to start at Mike.
Trey Biddy reported that despite originally thinking Ellis would be best suited in the middle, "this spring Bielema suggested he might be a better fit at Will."
That would leave Braylon Mitchell as a backup, but he would still see the field a lot by rotating in and could contribute at both the Sam and Will positions.
These moves would allow the Hogs to have their three best linebackers starting and make the group much more solid.
Starter: SR Tevin Mitchel
Backup: SO D.J. Dean
Starter: JR Will Hines
Backup: RS SO Jared Collins
The situation at cornerback seems a lot clearer. The Hogs signed a few defensive backs in this past class and will continue to do so for next year, but for now, the starters and backups look to be concrete.
Tevin Mitchel has been a key contributor in the secondary since his freshman year and is going to be one of the starters. He has a lot of talent and great ball skills, but he has a tendency to bite on play fakes and get beaten deep, something he must get better at in his last year.
His backup will be D.J. Dean, who is also talented. If Mitchel continues to struggle, Bielema could just move on and prepare for the future by starting Dean.
Will Hines should be the other starter. He missed most of 2013 with a broken arm but has made a nice recovery. He has great size and is able to cover bigger receivers with his physicality, which Arkansas needs more of in its secondary. Expect his backup to be Jared Collins.
Starter: RS SR Alan Turner
Backup: SR Tiquention Coleman
Starter: RS JR Rohan Gaines
Backup: RS FR De'Andre Coley
The return of Alan Turner is big for the secondary. He was the team's leading tackler last year with 97, 20 more than the next guy, and he also led the defensive backs in interceptions (two) and pass breakups (five).
He is very good in coverage for a safety and is simply a playmaker. His spot is about as guaranteed as they come. Tiquention Coleman will back him up. Coleman doesn't have the ball or tackling skills Turner has, but he's a good option to come in and play hard when Turner is on the sideline.
Rohan Gaines should be the other starter at safety. He hasn't had a huge role yet in his career, but that will change in 2014. Bielema and the team are going to be relying on Gaines to step in and be another playmaker in the secondary. De'Andre Coley has been coming along nicely and looks like he'll be behind Gaines.
Kicker: FR Cole Hedlund
Punter: SR Sam Irwin-Hill
Special teams is the only spot where we won't name a two-deep depth chart. Instead, we have the predicted starters for kicker and punter.
The starter at punter is another obvious pick with Sam Irwin-Hill. He had a great year after transferring from the JUCO ranks, averaging 44.3 yards per punt with 20 being downed inside the 20-yard line and nine going more than 50 yards. He has the leg to be one of the best punters in the nation this year.
The kicking responsibilities are a little more up in the air with veteran John Henson and true freshman Cole Hedlund. However, Hedlund is younger and has a better leg and accuracy. There's a reason why he was the No. 2-ranked kicker in the country in this past recruiting class, per 247Sports.
Hedlund looks like he could be even better than Zach Hocker and start all four years. With that said, I believe he'll be the starter this year and for the next four years.
There's no guarantee that this depth chart will hold up come time for the season to start, but it's a good look at what you can possibly expect to see when the time comes. Of course, it's always subject to change during the year when it comes to football.
Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.