Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said there are players who won’t return to the program for the 2014 season. He revealed the first one Monday.
Cornerback Ray Buchanan Jr. has asked for a release from his scholarship and will transfer elsewhere, according to Bielema. The Georgia native — whose father is former NFL cornerback Ray Buchanan — wasn’t part of Arkansas’ playing rotation in a secondary that has struggled this season.
Bielema said Buchanan began considering a transfer before the 2013 season began.
“I just sat him down, you know, I’ve only known him six months or whatever at that time. … It wasn’t even that long,” Bielema said. “Reached out to his pops. His pops is obviously a football guy. I’ve done a couple of interviews, radio interviews with his dad and I just said, ‘I don’t think this is in your son’s best interest. Let’s see if he can get involved in special teams, see if he can get in the two-deep, see where it can go.’
“I said ‘Let’s get to December and find out where we’re at.’ He’s not there.”
Buchanan was part of Arkansas’ 2012 signing class and redshirted last season.
Bielema indicated he’s working with Buchanan as he explores transfer options.
“I don’t blame him,” Bielema said of Buchanan’s request to transfer elsewhere. “He’s not in our two-deep and not really in our plans.”
Bielema said Buchanan won’t be the last player to leave the program, either, after the 2013 season ends with the LSU game on Nov. 29. He said other departures are “in the works” Monday, but did not mention any players by name.
“Those guys are going to leave our program just because depth-wise they’re not where they want to be … or being in a program that we’re going to hold accountability to the highest level in so many different ways,” Bielema said. “If they can’t meet that standard, it’s best for them to move on. But that’s a positive, I think.”
A few players already have left the program since Bielema’s arrival last December. Quarterback Brandon Mitchell, wide receiver Keante Minor, defensive end Austin Flynn and safety Defonta Lowe were released from their scholarships after spring practice. Receiver Mekale McKay transferred just before preseason practice began.
Mitchell transferred to North Carolina State, where he started the opener before breaking a bone in his foot. Mitchell has returned to start three more games this season, throwing for 499 yards with a touchdown and 6 interceptions.
McKay transferred to Cincinnati and was granted immediate eligibility. He has 13 catches for 402 yards and 7 touchdowns. It included a 3-catch, 3-touchdown performance in the Bearcats’ 52-17 win against Rutgers last Saturday.
“When you have a transfer it’s a potentially negative situation,” Bielema said. “I learned a long time ago in life, if you can avoid a negative and turn it into a positive you’re going to be a much better person for it. So work with kids so that they get the best possible transfer ever so their success can continue. Why put them in a bad situation?”
Mississippi State enters the week with quarterback uncertainty because of injuries to Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell. Prescott didn’t play against Alabama because of an elbow injury, while Russell left with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter.
Freshman Damian Williams finished the game for the Bulldogs, leaving the Razorbacks with three potential players to prepare for this week.
“It could be anybody,” Bielema said. “Whoever plays, they’re going to be good and they’re going to execute. I don’t really know what to say other than whoever is back there — I don’t think the plan changes all that much in the execution of what we’re going to do.”
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen categorized his quarterbacks as “day to day” on Monday, although Russell is listed as the starter and Prescott as his backup on the depth chart.
Russell has completed 53 of 81 passes for 612 yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in six games. Prescott has completed 128 of 219 passes for 1,542 yards with 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in nine games.
Mullen revealed Sunday that Bielema reached out to him with a hand-written note after former Bulldog Nick Bell died in Nov. 2010.
Bielema — who didn’t know Mullen — was asked about the note Monday and said he wrote it after watching a television piece on how Mullen and the Bulldogs were dealing with the tragedy.
“I think as a coach you just always look for people that you admire the way they do things,” Bielema said. “I remember watching it and I’m like, ‘Man, that’s pretty impressive,’ and I just reached out to him.”
The coaches bumped into each other at a convention last January and Bielema said Mullen shared how much the note meant. It was something Mullen echoed Monday as the coaches prepare to face each other for the first time this weekend.
“You are surprised because you get a lot of calls and you have things that go on,” Mullen said. “You get a call from (Alabama coach) Nick (Saban) and (LSU’s) Les (Miles), but they’re in the conference wishing you the best. To take time out and write a full letter out and send another thing with it, was a really neat deal. … He probably doesn’t remember writing the letter but it did have a impact on me and that just shows the character he has a coach and how all of us try to live our lives.”
Bielema and the Razorbacks have stood firmly by quarterback Brandon Allen as the sophomore navigates a difficult season. But what happens in the offseason, when Arkansas has more options at the position with Austin Allen, Damon Mitchell and verbal commitment Rafe Peavey competing for playing time?
“B.A. will have a tremendous advantage over other guys coming in the spring,” Bielema said. “ But, yeah, B.A. can accomplish a lot in these last two games.”
Allen has completed 99 of 212 passes (46.7 percent) for 1,260 yards with 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions this season. He was slowed by a shoulder injury earlier this season, but Bielema said the quarterback is healthier now.
“So I think now, let’s see how he prepares,” Bielema said. “I think he’s got to continue to build confidence with those receivers. But on the same side of it, they’ve got to give him some confidence back. It’s a two-way street.”