FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen knew there would be competition for his position during spring practice.
He welcomed the challenge. It would drive him even more after a less than impressive sophomore season. But Arkansas’ coaches and players have no doubt Allen deserves to remain on top of the depth chart as spring practice winds down.
“He’s definitely had a great spring,” Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams said after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s not only stepped up on the field, but off the field as well as a leader. He’s somebody that has definitely taken control of the offense when we’re out there and we’re ready to fight with him.”
Arkansas will enter Saturday’s spring game with no lingering competition at quarterback. Allen has firmly held onto the position throughout the spring, then earned coach Bret Bielema’s official stamp of approval two weeks ago.
So he’ll continue to lead the first-team offense during the final scrimmage in Razorback Stadium. And he’ll remain in the position over the summer as Arkansas works to improve a passing offense that struggled with Allen under center last fall.
“It’s big for me, knowing that he has the trust in me to lead this offense and do good things for us,” Allen said last week. “This passing game is a lot better than it used to be. I think last year at this time a lot of people weren’t on the same page at all. Everyone getting into the offense, learning the new routes. Right now, it’s pretty much honed. I think the older guys have done a good job of teaching it to the younger guys. We’re definitely a lot better schemed right now.”
Allen had a host of competitors when the spring began in A.J. Derby, Austin Allen, Damon Mitchell and Rafe Peavey. But he never stepped down from his first-team spot. Derby and Mitchell eventually were moved to other positions, leaving Austin Allen and Peavey as Arkansas’ No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks, respectively.
Allen showed more comfort and confidence in his second year in the offense after completing 49.6 percent of his passes for 1,552 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season. It helped that he was healthy, too, after working with a shoulder injury most of the year. Allen completed 75.5 percent for 404 yards with 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions during Arkansas’ two Saturday scrimmages.
Bielema said after the second scrimmage Allen is No. 1, adding “there isn’t anybody at our program now that is to his level.” Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said he’s comfortable with Allen leading the offense as well.
“Brandon’s a leader on this team,” Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry added. “He’s getting better daily and taking bigger strides, especially on the mental side of things. He’s constantly trying to get better. We have complete trust in him as a quarterback back there. But we already kind of had that. It’s just a big boost to him, I think.”
Allen is by no means a finished product. There have been mistakes this spring.
For instance, he couldn’t lead the first-team offense to a touchdown against the second-team defense in two possessions during a two-minute drill last week.
Allen also threw an interception during Tuesday’s practice and received a lecture from Chaney. He made a poor decision on the play, throwing the ball across his body while on the run. Allen instantly recognized the error.
“Trying to make a play that wasn’t there and forced it back across my body and he made a play on me,” Allen said. “Just throw it away and take the points.”
Chaney said it’s proof there’s still room for development, adding Allen hasn’t “scratched the surface yet on the type of player he can be.” But Chaney is confident Allen — who is leading a passing offense he believes has taken important strides this spring — will get there after proving he remains Arkansas’ best quarterback.
“I think we came a long way,” Chaney said. “I think Brandon is throwing the ball a lot more accurate than he did all last fall. It’s funny, I’ve had the chance to go back and look at some of the stuff we did last fall. You don’t get a chance to very much during spring football. But I have here recently. And I think we’re remarkably better.”