LITTLE ROCK — What Bret Bielema described as the “growth and development” of his Razorback football team was a killer on a secondary front.
Based on Bielema’s original plan to close today’s scrimmage, the column was about what sort of mental image would be conjured by the head coach’s comments concerning freshman running back Alex Collins. Until Bielema cited first-week progress and changed his mind, perspective for the column was about listening to Harry Caray do the Cardinals’ games and how his words shaped what was seen in the mind’s eye.
Whether center fielder Curt Flood was sprinting to make a back-handed catch of a drive to left-center, or Stan Musial was uncoiling on a fastball, or third baseman Ken Boyer was cutting off a smash in the hole and starting a double-play, Caray’s signature “Holy Cow,” said this play was better than most and made the imagined visual more spectacular.
Instead of interpreting Bielema on the running game in general and Collins in particular after the scrimmage, there will be eyewitnesses to what Collins does or doesn’t do. Even if the university does not provide statistics, beat writer Robbie Neiswanger and others will do the math.
Personally, the number of carries for Collins vs. the other running backs will be scrutinized as much as their production.
Admitting to the curmudgeon tag, I will withhold judgment until seeing Collins vs. SEC-caliber competition. Through the years, there have been much-ballyhooed athletes who were as good as advertised, others with similar hype who never made it, and lots of players in between. That said, if a freshman is going to make an immediate impact, the likelihood is that he will be a running back where instincts are more in play than at any other position.
For several reasons, Collins’ arrival has been highly anticipated, something akin to the excitement the first August that quarterback Ryan Mallett was eligible at Arkansas.
To begin with, Collins is a rare five-star Razorback out of Florida. In March, Saturday Down South named Collins the No. 10 newcomer of the year in the SEC, adding that Collins’ highlight tape will remind people of a smaller Trent Richardson/Todd Gurley hybrid. The article gushed about Collins’ speed and power.
Secondly, Bielema has made it clear that Arkansas will emphasize the running game and that the approach will be more physical than fool ‘em. That leads to the third point, which is that Arkansas does not have an established running back.
Jonathan Williams ended spring practice as the first-teamer, but he never carried more than nine times in a game last year and his most memorable performance was as a pass catcher against a Kentucky defense that failed to realize a running back is an eligible receiver. In the Red-White game in April, Williams had nine carries for 29 yards. Second-team running back Nate Holmes has speed, but is not big enough to stand up to the pounding that goes with 20 carries per game in the Southeastern Conference. Kody Walker is also available.
Whoever gets the ball from quarterback Brandon Allen will benefit from the blocking of fullback Kiero Small, who suffered a season-ending injury the week after the 2012 opener.
Despite not seeing Collins in action against Southeastern Conference defenses and without knowing if the offensive line is improved to the point that he will have opportunities to strut his stuff, fans have penciled him in for 20-plus carries per game and every-week production. Meanwhile, the focus on Collins has cut Allen some slack and that is a good thing for the sophomore from Fayetteville.
Allen, who turned 20 this week, is already burdened with expectations as the son of a long-time Arkansas assistant and the author of gaudy high school stats, including 38 touchdown passes and no interceptions as a senior.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is email@example.com.