Three things we learned this spring
1. Pick your poison at running back: There wasn’t a better one-two punch in the SEC last year than Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. Collins rushed for 1,026 yards as a true freshman while Williams added 900 yards. After the spring, you can add Korliss Marshall to the mix. The sophomore split time at safety and running back last year, but he’s now with the offense full-time and rushed for 99 yards and two touchdowns on just six carries in the spring game.
2. New emphasis on turnovers: Arkansas finished dead last in the SEC last season, forcing just 14 turnovers. When defensive coordinator Chris Ash left for Ohio State, it opened the door for Robb Smith to take over the defense, and he has instilled a new ball-hawking attitude. As a result, four Razorbacks had interceptions in the spring game.
3. Rushing the passer won’t be a problem: Chris Smith and his 8.5 sacks are gone. Veteran defensive tackles Robert Thomas and Byran Jones are gone. But with Trey Flowers and Darius Philon back and the emergence of fellow defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr., who had five sacks in the spring game, the defensive line should once again be a strength for the Razorbacks in 2014.
Three questions for the fall
1. Can Hogs win with Allen under center? Bret Bielema wouldn’t commit to Brandon Allen as his starter before the spring, but with AJ Derby moving to tight end and Damon Mitchell moving to wide receiver, it’s clear that he wants to roll with Allen as the guy. The question now is can the junior quarterback win games? He was 3-7 in games he started last year, and he went 12-of-21 for 108 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in the spring game.
2. Who replaces Travis Swanson? It’s never easy to replace a Rimington Award winner and a player who has started the last four years at center. Senior Luke Charpentier was thought to be the heir apparent, but former guard Mitch Smothers saw some time with the ones during the spring and the staff expects junior college transfer Sebastian Tretola to compete once he arrives this summer.
3. When will Bielema’s change be complete? Arkansas is still in the process of moving away from the Bobby Petrino days and becoming a more physical, hit-you-in-the-mouth football team, similar to the teams Bielema coached at Wisconsin. Will we see a significant difference this fall or will it take another year or two before the transformation is complete?
One way-too-early prediction
It’s too early to predict that Arkansas will be a bowl team in 2014, but it’s not too early to say the Razorbacks will upset one of the upper-echelon teams in the SEC West. They welcome Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss to D.W.R Razorback Stadium, play Texas A&M in a neutral-site game and open the season at Auburn in a game that could catch the Tigers off guard.