"I like our team. I like a lot about 'em."
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema has plenty of offensive holes to fill this offseason—one in which his team is not the darling of the college football world, as was the case a year ago.
Those holes include spots vacated by senior quarterback Brandon Allen (3,440 yards, 30 touchdowns), running backs Alex Collins (3,703 career rushing yards in three years) and Jonathan Williams (2,321 rushing yards in three years), tight end Hunter Henry (1,661 receiving yards in three years) and stud offensive linemen Denver Kirkland and Sebastian Tretola.
"We've got some shoes to fill," Bielema told Bleacher Report Radio on Saturday. "But I like our demeanor. They go about their work ethic second-to-none. I like the way they handle themselves."
The most gaping is obviously at quarterback, where Allen went from lighting rod for criticism and his truck being egged to a difference-maker at quarterback who tossed 15 touchdowns over the Hogs' final five games of the season.
His absence is huge, but luckily for Bielema and the rest of the staff, Arkansas has amassed talent and options over the last three years.
Austin Allen, younger brother of Brandon, is the most experienced quarterback on the roster. While Allen is talented, and comes from the right lineage, that experience is hardly something to fall back on. The 6'2", 210-pound junior served as his brother's backup in 2015 but attempted just three passes with his lone completion going for a 35-yard touchdown.
"Austin is the most likely incumbent, but we are going to open that baby up and let everybody compete," Bielema said.
This should be one of the most intriguing quarterback battles in the country, with redshirt sophomore Rafe Peavey and redshirt freshman Ty Storey—who were both highly touted signal-callers coming out of high school—and USC transfer Ricky Town—who transferred prior to the 2015 season after enrolling early and going through spring practice with the Trojans.
"Ricky was kind of in a tough spot," Bielema said. "He came in after the second week of fall camp, and we jumped him right into the drills. He really didn't get to learn the offense. I know Robb Smith and our defensive coaches said he did a great job throughout the year on the scout team, and his leadership and all that goes into it. I'm excited to see Ricky pop in there.
"In bowl practice, we saw that he had a live arm and does a lot of good things in reading and understanding."
The inexperience on the roster in terms of playing time and snaps taken with the first team can be negated, though, by the presence of second-year offensive coordinator Dan Enos. Enos, who previously was the head coach at Central Michigan for five years, produced a 3,000-yard passer for the fifth time in the last six years in his first season in Fayetteville.
"Dan did a really great job of developing quarterbacks," Bielema said. "He was able to bring them along and do things during the year that we really haven't been able to do before. I give him a lot of credit to that partnership."
While Allen was amazing in 2015, finding the replacement—or replacements—for Collins and Williams is an enormous offseason task for Bielema. Kody Walker stepped in nicely for Williams when he was lost prior to the season and rushed for 394 yards and six touchdowns. Rising sophomore Rawleigh Williams was solid too, rushing for 254 yards and a touchdown before a neck injury suffered against Auburn ended his season.
The running back of the future, though, signed on the dotted line on national signing day.
Devwah Whaley, a 4-star running back from Beaumont, Texas, will head to Fayetteville later this year with a ton of pressure on his shoulders. He's expected to contend for snaps right out of the gate, and at 6'0", he's as complete as Collins was when he came to the program after putting on some weight.
"He's a very physical player. He's 228 pounds, runs really well and has some really good track times," Bielema said. "What's going to set him apart is how he's going to handle the transition from the spread to the power eye."
The biggest part of the transition is in pass-blocking, where Bielema and Enos depend on their running backs to be able to recognize where blitzes are coming from and not suffer any breakdowns.
"He's got to get the system, but more than anything, it's the techniques," Bielema said. "These SEC linebackers are a little different. That will be a big adjustment. But I know this, he doesn't lack courage or ability. He's got good girth and a good understanding."
While Arkansas isn't known for its receivers, it has become "tight end U," of sorts, with Henry and quarterback-turned-tight end A.J. Derby both having success during Bielema's tenure. Finding Henry's replacement will be a huge factor in the success or failure of the new quarterback. Jeremy Sprinkle caught 27 passes for 389 yards and six touchdowns a year ago and should slide right into Henry's spot with relative ease.
"We like what we do," Bielema said of his team's success with tight ends. "I tell you what, Jeremy Sprinkle is a guy who I think will emerge out of the ashes from this year. At 6'5", 260 pounds, he's a guy who runs really well."
Bielema is still building, but hopes are high in Northwest Arkansas.
"It's Year 4 of our program, Bielema said. "I've always felt that Year 5 would be the measuring point. If we can get one a year early, I'd like that as well."
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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