FAYETTEVILLE — Quarterback Rafe Peavey’s head was spinning — like most freshmen — when Arkansas opened spring practice a few weeks ago.
It’s understandable. The 2014 signee was in his first few weeks on campus, getting an early taste of college football. So he knew there wouldn’t be anything easy about the transition, especially at such a demanding position.
But after three weeks of practices, Peavey recognizes the benefits.
“It’s helped me a ton,” Peavey said. “Those reps are priceless, you know? I’m just so grateful I got here early. It’s really paying off. I’m so glad I did it.”
The Bolivar, Mo., native, who was one of the prizes of Arkansas’ 2014 signing class, is patiently working through his first spring with the Razorbacks. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Peavey has been rewarded for his early arrival by moving up the depth chart after some changes at the position last week.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney believed Peavey and redshirt freshman Austin Allen would benefit from extra repetitions in Arkansas’ spring plan to develop its backup quarterbacks. So A.J. Derby was moved to tight end and Damon Mitchell went to wide receiver, leaving Peavey among three players at the position.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema already has declared Brandon Allen the starter because of his experience and comfort in the offense. But it has left Peavey competing with Austin Allen for the backup job next season.
And Bielema said the Razorbacks are starting to see Peavey’s growth.
“I thought Rafe and Austin, probably even Rafe a little bit more, really made some huge strides (last) week,” Bielema said after last Saturday’s scrimmage. “The kid’s definitely got a live arm. He’s understanding our offense better.”
It’s what Arkansas expected when Peavey signed with the program last winter.
In fact, Bielema said Peavey is “just what a QB is supposed to be” during Arkansas’ signing day press conference. He threw for 2,294 yards with 16 touchdowns, rushed for 1,557 more and added 27 touchdowns. Peavey was rated as the No. 8 quarterback in the nation by Tom Lemming and 10th by ESPN.
Peavey had long ago planned to enroll at Arkansas early. In fact, the quarterback said in February he started thinking about it when he was an eighth-grader.
“I knew I was going to kind of be able to do this,” Peavey said. “So my freshman year I talked to my guidance counselors and tried to get my schedule set up from freshman year to be able to graduate early. Just in case I was in this situation.”
It has worked out for both Peavey and Arkansas. He’s one of four 2014 signees or transfer on campus this spring, joining receivers Jared Cornelius and Cody Hollister and cornerback Chris Murphy. Peavey, of course, has been one of the most closely watched newcomers because of the position he plays.
He earned limited repetitions in Arkansas’ first scrimmage, finishing 3-for-3 for 36 yards with the third-team offense. His workload grew last week after the change at quarterback, completing four straight passes before his first interception.
Peavey is 7-for-9 for 85 yards with an interception in two scrimmages.
“I’m pleased with him,” Chaney said. “He’s learning as he’s going. He’s getting used to me. I don’t think he’s ever had a coach get after him a little bit like I have, but I know Rafe knows I love him and I care about the young man a lot. And he’s growing every day as is Austin. We’re all kind of learning each other out as we go.”
Peavey believes he’s getting a good grasp of Arkansas’ playbook although the installation process has been heavy lately. Chaney said Peavey doesn’t understand all of the plays, which is typical for freshmen. But he’s pressing Peavey for more as Arkansas tries to identify a backup quarterback after last season’s struggles.
“I’m content where he’s at right now, but we’ve got to shove the pedal down,” Chaney said. “What you can say … You’re a freshman and all that. So what? You’re in the mix here. You’re getting reps. We’re expecting your growth and development to be the same rate as everybody else. So get your butt going, learn what you’ve got to do and compete. And he’s doing that.”
Bielema said last Saturday that Austin Allen would be the second-team quarterback if the season was starting because the redshirt freshman has more experience after a season in the system. But the depth chart, by no means, has been determined.
Peavey said he isn’t concerned about it. The only thing he’s concentrating on making the most of every snap he gets during his first spring with the Razorbacks.
“We’re getting a little more reps because there’s only three of us,” Peavey said. “So I’m taking advantage of that. … Just taking it day by day and trying to learn all I can.”