Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said quarterback Brandon Allen did not practice Tuesday because of his injured shoulder, but the sophomore will be with the team when the Razorbacks travel to Rutgers later this week.
Bielema, speaking on the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference Wednesday morning, said he has placed Allen on Arkansas’ travel squad. He added that Allen’s injured shoulder is improving and hasn’t ruled him out of Saturday’s game even though signs continue to point toward backup AJ Derby starting.
“It’ll just be a game-time decision,” Bielema said. “He hasn’t been able to practice as of yet, but the good news is with this type of situation we’ve been able to get a lot of quality reps with our next quarterback, which would be AJ Derby, and then Austin Allen after that. So it’ll be a work in progress to get to Saturday.
“If he can’t go, the next man will be in and we’ll take that challenge.”
Allen was injured in the first quarter against Southern Miss, diving into the end zone on a five-yard touchdown run. He left the field immediately after the injury and didn’t return to the sideline without his uniform in the second half. Allen wore a black sling and helped Derby through his first appearance with the Razorbacks.
Bielema has said Allen didn’t break anything in his shoulder, but declined to clarify the exact extent of the quarterback’s injury during Wednesday’s conference call. He said Allen did hurt his throwing shoulder and “that’s the concern.”
Rutgers, meanwhile, feels more confident about starting quarterback Gary Nova’s chances of playing against the Razorbacks. Nova, who is working his way back from a concussion, participated in more portions of practice Wednesday.
“I’m very optimistic (about Nova), I guess is what I can say,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said after practice, according to the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger.
Bielema stressed the Razorbacks won’t take any risks by playing Allen if he needs more time for the shoulder to heal. But he also added Allen wouldn’t require extensive practice time to be prepared to play Saturday. It would take plenty of assurance from the quarterback and Arkansas’ medical staff, though.
“He definitely is a guy that — he gets better with every practice, don’t get me wrong — but I think he’s a guy if you felt like Saturday he could roll, we’d go with him,” Bielema said. “But on the same account, he hasn’t practiced yet.
“The one thing I don’t want to do is — this is a quarterback who’s a sophomore that I think has a very, very bright future. I loved the way AJ’s handling practice and Austin, to be quite honest. Unless the doctors could guarantee me 100 percent that there’s no risk whatsoever and BA could look me in the eye and tell me, ‘Hey, I can guarantee you I can go coach’ and he doesn’t blink, that’s the only way we could let him go.”
2. Other Updates
Bielema said offensive tackles Grady Ollison (ankle) and David Hurd (knee) participated in the team portions of practice Tuesday. He said Hurd’s injury shouldn’t be an issue. Ollison was limited to the team portion of Tuesday’s practice.
“We just saw the training report (Wednesday) morning was much better,” Bielema said about Ollison. “He should be involved in everything (Wednesday).”
Bielema also said receiver Keon Hatcher looked great during Tuesday’s practice and “should be heavily involved” in the gameplan this week. Hatcher has been limited all season because of a hamstring injury he first suffered in preseason camp.
Safety Rohan Gaines practiced Tuesday and Bielema said the sophomore “looked as good as you could expect.” Gaines has missed two straight games with a knee injury, but the Razorbacks are hopeful he could help the Razorbacks at Rutgers.
“Rohan got out there the last two days and did a nice job, but he’s missed a lot of time,” said Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who added that Alan Turner will continue to start. “He is just getting back into the flow of things and gaining confidence with his knee and making sure he feels right when he plants. He’s done a nice job making up for the time that he’s missed and he will continue to do so.”
3. Return Man
Receiver Javontee Herndon has had an up-and-down performance as the Razorbacks’ punt returner. He has produced a couple of medium-sized gains, but also has endured some issues with two fumbles (one lost) through three games.
Herndon said the experience has been helpful, though, considering he hasn’t returned punts since high school. He is averaging 8.5 yards a return.
“I think it’s a little bit of getting a feel for it and being a little anxious,” Herndon said. “As a punt returner, I want to take everything to the house. So I feel like any chance I get I’m going to try to make the biggest play possible.”
Herndon said ruby-style punts have been particularly difficult to field because the ball skips around on the turf. Some are clean hops. Others are not. But he has embraced the opportunity on top of his work as Arkansas’ leading receiver.
“The more plays I’m able to make to help this team, I’m going to do that,” Herndon said. “I’m enjoying punt return and I’m just trying to make the best out of it.”
4. Extra Points
Bielema said on his radio show “On the Air With Bret Bielema” that Derby has ironed out his shotgun snap issues in practice this week. The coach then added Derby “will be back in the gun this week.” He added: “But if he puts one on the ground he will be under center in a hurry.” … LB Otha Peters said he’s been more involved in the defense this week after working his way back from a broken forearm last week. Peters is playing with a cast on his right arm, but said “it’s not holding me back too much.” … Ash said Turner, who went home after last Saturday’s game to attend his father’s funeral Monday, has not missed any practice time this week.