Arkansas’ quarterback depth chart has been trimmed to four this week.
A.J. Derby, who handled second-team work during the first two weeks of spring practice, has moved to tight end. The senior spent Thursday’s workout at the position, catching passes during pass skeleton and 11-on-11 drills.
The position switch came after Derby turned in one of his best scrimmage performances at quarterback, completing 8 of 13 passes for 145 yards with a touchdown and interception during the Razorbacks’ first spring scrimmage.
Redshirt freshman Austin Allen handled second-team duty during Arkansas’ practice Thursday, while Rafe Peavey received third-team reps. Arkansas’ fourth quarterback — Damon Mitchell — did not get much work during the practice.
Derby was Arkansas’ backup quarterback last season and appeared in seven games with one start at Rutgers. He completed 19 of 36 passes for 178 yards with a touchdown and interception, but the Arkansas offense struggled when he played.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was asked about his quarterbacks after Saturday’s scrimmage and indicated Austin Allen was gaining ground on the No. 2 spot.
“I think that Austin is making progress with every practice,” Bielema said. “He’s a kid that flourishes in a game-like situation. He’s got a nice arm. A.J. has experience on him, but that gap is beginning to tighten. Whether or not he’s passed him or not, I’ll leave that up to (offensive coordinator Jim) Chaney. We’ll have a discussion.”
Bielema, Chaney and Arkansas’ offensive players were not available for interviews after Thursday’s practice.
It’s not the first time the 6-foot-5, 246-pound Derby has switched positions during his college career. He started as a quarterback at Iowa in 2011, but moved to linebacker after being suspended for two games.
Derby transferred to Coffeyville Community College after the season, where he played quarterback for one season before arriving at Arkansas.
Derby’s older brother, Zach, played tight end at Iowa.
Derby — who joins a group that includes Hunter Henry, Jeremy Sprinkle and Alex Voelzke this spring — got involved at the position during Thursday’s practice, catching a pass over the middle of the field from Austin Allen. He also latched onto a pass later in the workout and took part in some of Arkansas’ special teams drills.
Arkansas practice in front of a long-time coach Thursday. Dave Wannstedt, who had head coaching stints with the Chicago Bears (1993-98), Miami Dolphins (2000-04) and at the University of Pittsburgh (2005-10), watched from the sideline.
Wannstedt worked with Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. Wannstedt is not on a coaching staff for the 2014 season so Smith said he’s spending a few days in Fayetteville.
“He’s a great resource,” Smith said. “He’s kind of pseudo-retired right now. He still loves being around the game of football. He knows Arkansas pretty well just from his ties to Jimmy Johnson, Jerry Jones and Jeff Long. I’m anxious to get some feedback from him. He’s a tremendous person and an excellent football coach.”
Wannstedt watched the practice with Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, who hired him as Pittsburgh’s head coach in 2005.
Coley’s big hit
Arkansas safety De’Andre Coley made the defensive play of the scrimmage last Saturday, delivering a bone-jarring hit on a walk-on running back.
The sophomore recalled the hit — which forced a fumble and proved to be the final play of the scrimmage — after Thursday’s practice.
“I had come down as a linebacker and if the tight end blocked out, I go hit the gap,” Coley said. “As soon as I hit the gap I saw the running back, so I made the big hit.”
Arkansas defensive backs coach Clay Jennings described the hit as “amazing.”
“I told him if I can get more of that on a consistent basis I’ll be a heck of a lot happier,” Jennings said. “One thing that De’Andre does, he brings a physical nature to the game. If I can get De’Andre lined up, and he becomes more of a student of the game, he’s going to make some great plays in the near future.”
• WR D’Arthur Cowan practiced Thursday. The sophomore had missed the first two weeks of work while concentrating on academics. Bielema said last week Cowan had made progress and had a shot to return to the field.
• RB Korliss Marshall and WR Eric Hawkins practice in green, non-contact jerseys Thursday. Both players missed last Saturday’s scrimmage. Hawkins had a head injury, while Marshall was undergoing tests for a medical issue. Neither player is likely to participate in Saturday’s scrimmage in Razorback Stadium.
• Cordale Boyd worked with the first-team offense at left guard Thursday. He’s the third player to line up with the first-team offense at the position this spring, joining Grady Ollison and Mitch Smothers.
• Arkansas hired Daniel Bush as an assistant recruiting coordinator and director personnel. Bush spent the past three seasons as a player personnel specialist at Alabama. His hiring came a day after E.K. Franks was named director of recruiting.
• The Razorbacks announced that their second scrimmage of the spring will be open to the public as well Saturday. It will begin at approximately 11:45 a.m.