Jim Harris: Razorback Football Scrimmage: The Good, Bad & Explosive


Two plays at first glance should have been concerning to anyone watching the Arkansas Razorbacks’ first scrimmage of the fall camp Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

In early ones-versus-ones action starting on the offense’s 32-yard-line, a backside defensive end got loose when the Hogs ran a play-action bootleg pass to the right side. Fans saw this play several times last season and its typical bad result: Quarterback Brandon Allen sensed the rush and circled deeper, too deep in fact, and was left to throw a sideline pass short to a well-covered receiver.

Later in the scrimmage, ones-versus-ones again, and this time starting from the defense’s 25-yard-line, Allen and the offense got their one-up on their counterparts. The pass play didn’t appear complicated, but receiver Drew Morgan ran a vertical route to the end zone (no one had access to replay to see if he had used a double-move early) and was wide open for Allen’s high-velocity strike for an easy touchdown. The defenders, safety Rohan Gaines and cornerback Carroll Washington, seemed confused as to who-had-whom.

Those two plays out of 93 total on Saturday were at first perplexing, because it seemed like shades of last season, all 3-9 of it, replaying itself: Allen on the run and ineffective, and a clueless secondary exposed on a regular basis.

But, here’s the good about going up against each other right now, just six days into Arkansas’ preseason workouts: the positives on those plays. That wasn’t Florida pressuring Allen with great speed off the end, but rather a quick Razorback defensive end (senior star Trey Flowers didn’t run many plays Saturday, but Deatrich Wise did and he looks bigger and faster). And Drew Morgan darting alone in the end zone, looking like former Texas A&M star Ryan Swope? Why, Morgan — who I tried to tell anyone who would listen when the Greenwood do-it-all star signed with Arkansas that he had the speed, quickness and football savvy to play in the SEC — did not figure in a single reception last season and perhaps looked out of place.

No more, though.

Outside of Brandon Allen, who would go on to have what I thought was a good day in the scrimmage — though he did catch his own pass once when a big hand up front swatted it back — and running backs Korliss Marshall and Jonathan Williams, Morgan was the standout Saturday morning. Before the aforementioned touchdown pass, Morgan laid out for a perfectly thrown 42-yard strike with a defender draped on him at the defense’s 20-yard line. Four snaps after the 25-yard touchdown toss, he made a nice out-cut to catch a 16-yard TD pass from Allen, again taking advantage of Washington and Gaines. Morgan, by our stats, had six catches for 104 yards.

Allen also delivered one in stride to junior Keon Hatcher for 41 yards. Backup quarterback Austin Allen showed a deft touch occasionally, mimicking his brother on a deep pass to Duwop Mitchell for 40 yards and once finding a leaping Hunter Henry over a safety for 25. Rafe Peavey, battling Austin Allen for the backup spot, didn’t show a lot in the passing game but did display his running ability while donning the green, don’t-hit-him jersey. Austin Allen may have the leg up on Peavey, as he stepped in to quarterback the No. 1 offense on a series, but he also had some fumbled snaps.

The starting defense allowed few long runs, though it did let the green-jersey-wearing Brandon Allen get loose on a couple of scrambles because they couldn’t hit him. Well, they weren’t supposed to hit the quarterbacks, though linebacker Daunte Carr forget and dumped Austin Allen once. And backup linebacker Otha Peters didn’t remember during one session that tackling was allowed and let a tight end go by with just a touch.

Yes, there probably still should be concern about the secondary in year two under head coach Bret Bielema. Senior safety Alan Turner has the most skill of the returnees there and he played well, Bielema said. Gaines made a well-timed deflection on a pass attempt to right end Hunter Henry, and backup defensive back Dayvon “Sleepy” McKinney  put a sideline wallop on big fullback Patrick Arinze, forcing a fumble knocking himself and Arinze out of the scrimmage. The other veterans were so-so. Will Hines, for example, was beaten on the 40-yard pass to Mitchell, freshman quarterback-turned-receiver, and earlier drew a pass interference flag.

But, with senior corner Tevin Mitchel being withheld from contact to continue the recuperation after shoulder surgery, opportunity was afforded to freshman Henri Tolliver, who at times looked the part of a real SEC cornerback. Another freshman, Santos Ramirez, couldn’t go Saturday but Bielema indicated Ramirez had been impressive during the past week as well. Tolliver and Ramirez are recruits from Louisiana. LSU can’t take all of them, we know.

“I might send 10 coaches over there [to Louisiana],” Bielema said, marveling at the play of a number of Pelican State products on this current squad. Tolliver has made a big push in the past three days. “Football players show up when pads are on and that’s what Henri’s done.”

Another, linebacker Dwayne Eugene, a high school teammate of Tolliver’s, looks to figure in a backup linebacker role alongside Miami, Fla., native Randy Ramsey, who “has the guns going and the chest, he’s just rock solid,” Bielema said, after weight room work brought his weight from 206 pounds at signing day to the current 225.

Brandon Allen only ended up with 12 completions in 22 attempts — “Same old song,” some fans might be saying. However, tight end Hunter Henry let one easy catch bounce off his chest, and a couple of freshmen receivers found the going tough and the pounding hard to take on passes over the middle, leading to more drops. They’ll get it eventually. Also, Allen simply had to throw away a couple of passes after protection eventually broke down. Yes, that starting secondary with a lapse or two also had moments of great coverage — or the receivers couldn’t shake them, which might say more about Allen’s potential targets.

Beliema said that overall he was pleased with the play of the back line, and he noted that safety Gaines has stepped it up because he’s being pushed by redshirt freshman Dre Coley and true freshman Josh Liddell. “He’s going to be a phenomenal football player,” Bielema said of Liddell, the Dollarway product who played quarterback. Liddell had a smashing hit on freshman Jared Cornelius to knock loose a pass over the middle.

The problem, as we all know too well after last year’s 0-8 SEC run, is that even with great plays here and there, it only takes one or two secondary breakdowns to be the difference in an SEC game (LSU, anyone?). Arkansas and new defensive coordinator Rob Smith still have 20 days to get it right before opening at Auburn, either with the experienced guys or with the young ones pushing them.

Meanwhile, the offense figures to continue to improve when running back Alex Collins returns to practice. Last year’s 1,000-yard rusher as a freshman “tweak a groin” muscle that forced him to sit out Saturday’s scrimmage, Bielema said, but should be back at practice Monday.

“I think we’re much further along at this point now than we were last year,” Bielema said. Well, what else could he say?

*  *  *

The media was getting its first look at the 2014 Hogs after a week of closed practices, and fans weren’t allowed in Saturday, but they’ll get to see the Razorbacks scrimmage next Saturday. No one saw the kicking game, which got its attention from the coaches on Saturday night under the stadium lights.

Bielema did note one other example, coming from the kicking game, that indicated how much improved his program has grown over this time last season. The competition is “intense” for kickoff and punt returns. “We have 20 to 22 guys we’re looking at in the return game, last year we had five or six …  Recruiting and development is key to your program.”

One of those returners likely will be sophomore running back Korliss Marshall, the Osceola product who was one of the last players recruited in Bielema’s first Arkansas signing class and was likely headed to UCA before the Hogs offered.

“He’s one of the most explosive players I’ve coached in my career,” Bielema said of Marshall.

razorback football scrimmage

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