Hogs: Austin Allen opens spring drills as No. 1 QB; a surprise at LB; more notes
FAYETTEVILLE - Though not in official depth-chart form, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema on Monday named his first-team offense and defense going into Tuesday's start of spring practice.
Jr QB AUSTIN ALLEN
Bielema said the first-team offense includes fourth-year junior quarterback Austin Allen, sixth-year senior running back Kody Walker, senior tight end Jeremy Sprinkle of White Hall, and a line of Frank Ragnow at center, third-year sophomore Johnny Gibson of Dumas and Hjalte Froholdt, the sophomore convert from the defensive line, and January enrolled JC transfer Deion Malone as the guards and senior incumbent Dan Skipper at right tackle and redshirt freshman Colton Jackson of Conway and third-year sophomore Brian Wallace battling at left tackle.
Jackson's progress to Wallace's equal has surprised given that Bielema touted Wallace's redshirt year in 2014 and his practices while backing up turned pro left tackle Denver Kirkland last season.
"On the offensive line, probably the guy who jumped out the most is Colton Jackson," Bielema said, noting new offensive line coach Kurt Anderson also impressed. "He was a guy that maybe was a little bit under recruited as we watched him unfold. Really pays attention to detail, smart and engaging. I know he's had a huge impact in Coach Anderson's room just to what he has been able to bring to the table. I am excited to get him on the floor and with him Brian Wallace, those two will be competing for the left tackle spot."
Bielema said the ultimate plan for starting the "best five linemen" in the fall has Ragnow, last year's starting right guard, Froholdt and redshirt freshman Zach Rogers, all practicing at both guard and center this spring, while Gibson practices at guard and tackle.
As wide receivers, Bielema said he has "four or five" first-teamers. Senior Keon Hatcher, the 2014 leading receiver, returns on hardship after missing the past 11 games of 2015 with a broken foot. Hatcher rejoins 2015 standout senior receivers Drew Morgan of Greenwood and Camden Fairview alum Dominique Reed, junior Jared Cornelius and senior Cody Hollister plus redshirt freshmen LaMichael Pettway of Nashville Deon Stewart of Hardy.
Morgan will be limited in spring drills coming off shoulder surgery as will running back Rawleigh Williams coming off neck surgery.
Kody Walker, 250-plus as a fullback/backup tailback to turned pro Alex Collins last year, is listed 251, but actually in the 240's now Bielema said working to be "an every down back."
Senior Chris Jones of DeQueen and redshirt freshman Damani Carter of Fayetteville are among those competing at fullback. Kendrick Jackson, initially recruited as a linebacker but used at fullback last year, is a full-time linebacker, Bielema said.
Because they missed last Sunday night's return from spring break team meeting, redshirt freshman tight ends C.J. O'Grady of Fayetteville and Austin Cantrell are behind redshirt freshman Will Gragg of Dumas in the backup battle behind Sprinkle, Bielema said.
"Will Gragg looks great," Bielema said. "Will weighs the exact same he did a year ago, but just a lot more put together, a lot more mature. My guess he's going to make a huge jump this spring."
Jack Kraus of Bentonville, lettering as a reserve tight end last season, is limited this spring coming off knee surgery.
End to end on the defensive line, Bielema started with junior incumbent Tevin Beanum of Forrest City and senior Deatrich Wise, emerging late in 2015 as an All-SEC candidate, on the opposite flanks. Senior Taiwan Johnson and junior two-year letterman Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado battle at noseguard.
Moving Jeremiah Ledbetter from end to tackle sacrifices some heft but accelerates the explosiveness not seen in the interior line since 281-pound tackle Darius Philon played so well in 2014. Philon turned pro as a third-year sophomore to play in the NFL for San Diego.
"We've let him know the production that we had out of Darius Philon a year ago that we thought we missed with an explosive player," Bielema said. "So we are really excited to see what he brings to us in there."
Bielema said the defense relies heavily on returning starters middle and weakside linebackers Brooks Ellis and Dre Greenlaw, both of Fayetteville, and that Randy Ramsey, the linebacker banished from the team last year and okayed for transfer, so committed to the cause that he returns as a walk-on and starts spring as the starting strongside linebacker.
"Randy Ramsey, the newcomer with the second time coming into our program, has been impressive and very eager and very energetic," Bielema said.
The secondary has three safeties Bielema considers first-teamers: Josh Liddell, Santos Ramirez and Jacksonville's Kevin Richardson. Richardson also is in the cornerback mix with first-teamers D.J. Dean (limited this spring coming off foot surgery), Jared Collins and sophomore Ryan Pulley (especially praised Monday by Bielema) with Henre Toliver at corner and nickel.
"The back end probably has the best competition on the team," Bielema said.
Bielema said returning place-kickers/kickoff men Cole Hedlund, Lane Saling and Adam McFain of Greenwood have been told the spring practices will determine which two of the trio will be invited to the roster-limited August preseason practices before the roster expands with the start of the UA's fall semester classes.
For disciplinary reasons, Bielema said defensive lineman Josh Allen, while still in school, will not practice with the team this spring and that defensive back Cornelius Floyd because of UA ineligibility isn't in school but attempting to do the the required work to return.
Arkansas' first two (Tuesday and Thursday) are NCAA mandated non-contact. The Razorbacks will scrimmage Saturday.