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There were some interesting developments during Thursday's Razorback practice, notable personnel shifts that included moving forward with only three quarterbacks, a focus on red zone situations, continued work on third downs, and a little goal line work.
While there is news like this being the first open practice when the offense broke the huddle and came out in trips, but the most intriguing news of the day centered around personnel moves.
Mitchell working at receiver
Early in practice while throwing one-on-one drills with receivers and defensive backs, redshirt freshman quarterback Damon Mitchell's long ball was looking much better than in recent weeks, but his shorter throws were more erratic. In previous open practices, it has been the other way around for Mitchell.
HawgSports.com's Danny West broke the news earlier today that Mitchell worked at wide receiver on Tuesday. Through a few team and skelly periods with him in the quarterback group, Mitchell was not being rotated into those sessions. Halfway through practice he trotted over to the receivers by the sideline. During the 18th of 20 periods, Mitchell got in at receiver during a team period.
Derby at tight end
West also was first to find out that senior A.J. Derby, last year's backup, had moved to tight end on Tuesday. Derby spent the whole practice Thursday at tight end and ended up with 5 catches for 61 yards in team and skelly periods combined.
Derby had been working as the No. 2 quarterback but the last few practices those second team reps were being split with redshirt freshman Austin Allen. From a production standpoint, Derby seemed to be having a slightly better spring than Austin, but the coaches have to make decisions and cannot continue giving reps to five quarterbacks. Austin has four years left to get better while Derby only has one. Austin finished 10 of 17 for 74 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception that came off a tipped ball by Jared Cornelius into the hands of De'Andre Coley.
"I had to come down as a linebacker position, and if the tight end blocks out, I go hit the gap. As soon as I hit the gap, I saw the running back so I made the big hit," Coley said.
Peavey moves up
With Mitchell getting work at safety and Derby now at tight end, true freshman Rafe Peavey has moved all the way up to the depth chart from No. 5 to No. 3. He made the most of his opportunity in completing 9 of 14 passes for 170 yards and 3 touchdowns in combined work. That included a 72-yard strike to Eric Hawkins on what was probably the prettiest pass of the day in skelly work.
Boyd with first group
Up front, sophomore Cordale Boyd was working as the starting left guard all practice. Boyd has previously been regarded as the sixth-best offensive lineman on the team but was working as the backup center. Grady Ollison started out at left guard early in the spring but was replaced by Mitch Smothers. Smothers was working as the backup center on Thursday. Ollison is the only offensive lineman on the team with taped ankles and had an ankle injury last season. That could be holding him back, still.
T.Q. at linebacker?
Senior safety TiQuention Coleman saw action at the new 'dollar' position last week in a version of Arkansas' nickel package. The dollar is a safety who lines up at inside linebacker in that alignment. On Thursday, Coleman was going through individual drills with linebackers and lined up as an outside linebacker during team and skelly.
Coleman is regarded as a candidate to be the team's hardest hitter, pound-for-pound, but he only comes in at 5-foot-10, 207 pounds. Arkansas is experimenting with several different looks, that range from moving defensive ends inside to defensive tackle, putting linebackers at defensive end, pressing more with cornerbacks and playing more react concepts over read concepts at the line-of-scrimmage.
"When Bret hired me, one of the things he wanted to do is be aggressive on defense, and we're going to pick our opportunities to do that. We have a couple of little wrinkles in now," Smith said.
"We've been pressing a lot, mixing it up, disguising a lot. It's real good for us as a whole," junior cornerback Will Hines said. "It's been pretty good. We're learning it pretty fast."
Goal line work up next
The team did some goal line work but only walked through it. They will do it live on Saturday during the scrimmage.
"Today we just showed a little bit of the goal line. We didn't really go full speed, but we're going to scrimmage it on Saturday," Jennings said.
"We're going to try to get a few reps in. We just installed it today, so we're just trying to get lined up and go through out fits and things and then we'll try to get after it a little bit on Saturday," Segrest said.
Battle at defensive end
Redshirt sophomore JaMichael Winston was the starting right end most of the day opposite returning starter Trey Flowers. Before Thursday, Brandon Mitchell has been the starter at that end spot.
"I've got a group of hard-workers," defensive line coach Rory Segrest said. "We've got a lot of guys who are hopefully catching up with [Flowers], and we just have to keep getting better with them."
Three corners emerging
"The biggest thing those two guys have shown is that they'll be physical. Tevin has moved from the boundary and is playing a little bit more to the field. He's moving his feet, and he's having a lot more fun playing it seems like. And Jared Collins has been playing pretty well too. Those three guys, I think those guys are fighting it out this spring."
Odds & ends
Junior receiver D'Arthur Cowan was back at practice even though it was originally understood that he would miss the entire spring while he focused on academic work.
Sophomore running back Korliss Marshall was back at practice in a green 'no-contact' jersey. Eric Hawkins continued practicing as a 'no-contact' player in green.
There was a light scuffle today between receiver redshirt freshman Kendrick Payne and junior cornerback Will Hines.
Brandon Allen was wearing some type of adjustable sports sunglasses Thursday that seemingly lift and lower when needed.
Former Pittsburgh and Chicago Bears coach Dave Wanndstedt was at practice today.
TEAM STATS - mostly red zone and third down situations
Brandon Allen - 7 of 13 for 77 yards and 1 touchdown (17 to 84)
Austin Allen - 5 of 10 for 32 yards and 1 interception
Rafe Peavey - 3-5 for 48 yards and 1 touchdown (4 to 81)
SKELLY STATS - mostly in red zone and third down situations
Brandon Allen - 11 of 16 for 172 yards and 3 touchdowns (18 to 4, 8 to 32 & 4 to 84)
Austin Allen - 5 of 7 for 42 yards and 2 touchdowns (14 to 81 & 7 to 83)
Rafe Peavey - 6 of 9 for 122 yards and 2 touchdowns (4 to 83 & 72 to 14)
RECEIVING STATS - team & skelly combined
Keon Hatcher - 6 catches for 86 yards and an 18-yard touchdown - 15, 18td, 11, 7, 12, 23
A.J. Derby - 5 for 61 - 6, 10, 22, 7, 16
Cody Hollister - 5 for 46 yards and a 2 TDs of 14 and 4 yards - 8, 14td, 4 td, 7, 3
Jeremy Sprinkle - 5 for 40 and 2 TDs of 7 and 4 yards - 7, 7td, 4td, 10, 12
Hunter Henry - 4 for 58 and a 4-yard TD - 10, 4td, 17td, 27
Drew Morgan - 2 for 32 - 5, 27
Alex Collins - 2 for 7 - 1, 6
Eric Hawkins - 1 for 72 and 1 TD of 72 yards - 72td
Scotty Thurman - 1 for 17
Jared Cornelius - 1 for 16 - 16
Bryson Cook - 1 for 15 - 15
Kendrick Payne - 1 for 14 - 14
Anthony Antwine - 1 for 10 - 10
Jonathan Williams - 1 for 8 and a TD - 8td
Korliss Marshall - 1 for 4 - 4
Kody Walker - 1 for 3 - 3
Thoughts on Thursday
By Danny West - Originally posted on The Razor's Edge Premium Forum
QB: Brandon Allen wasn't as crisp today, in my opinion. He did a lot of good things and he had to deal with a couple of drops, but I thought he had a couple that just got away from him and had a couple of would-be sacks. Wasn't bad, but wasn't spectacular. Austin Allen threw the interception to Dre Coley but I thought he threw a few really nice balls, too. Rafe Peavey had the day's best two throws, including one that I couldn't shut up to Trey about. It was a pro throw. Just barely made it over a leaping Sleepy McKinney and hit Eric Hawkins in stride for a 72-yard TD. Looked like the type of throw Mallett used to make routinely.
- Duwop Mitchell sat and watched those three just about all day before finally running a few reps at wideout.
RB: Won't spend much time talking about the tailbacks because there wasn't any live stuff going on, but I did think J-Will looked really good today outside of having one drop out of the backfield. Chris Jones continues to impress me at fullback. Again, if the season started today I'd go with him as my starter. When he hits people they go the other direction. Had a couple nasty collisions today.
WR: It's gonna be hard to keep Cody Hollister from getting a lot of playing time this fall. He just catches anything they throw near him. I've been very impressed with him. Not sure what got into Jared Cornelius today but he had a couple of drops, including one that he let Coley just take away from him for an INT. Keon Hatcher showed that he's still the go-to guy there today, in my opinion. He's just steady. Tevin Mitchel got the best of him at the LOS one time and his fellow receivers started yelling at him to get him back, and sure enough he beat Tevin for a nice gain on the very next play. Drew Morgan probably had the best catch of the day.
TE: Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle were active again today, catching a lot of passes. Henry had one of the best catches of the day across the middle. I thought A.J. Derby looked good catching the ball and more importantly it looked like he was enjoying it.
OL: I'm partial to Cordale Boyd starting at LG. I think Sebastian Tretola will have a lot to play about that position, but I really like what Boyd brings to that spot. That's just me. He's nowhere near as big as the other guys, but he's smart and quick. I like Boyd. I just don't think Mitch Smothers is going to be their answer at LG or C. He put at least one ball on the ground today as a center, and I don't know who was to blame on the other one I saw hit the ground (not even sure it wasn't Charpentier who snapped it, honestly). I will say, it looked to me like the No. 2 OL had its way with the No. 2 interior DL. Pushed them around early on. The No. 2 DTs were Ke'Tyrus Marks and Taiwan Johnson.
DL: Trey Flowers is rough on Brey Cook sometimes. That's not a shot at Brey, because I think he's pretty good himself. More of a credit to Flowers. He's just hard to beat with those long arms and that strength and quickness. JaMichael Winston getting first-team reps is a good thing for their depth at DE, IMO.
LB: Randy Shannon stays pretty relaxed most of the time but I saw him get after them pretty hard today. He jumped on Martrell Spaight and Otha Peters a couple of times for not getting to where they needed to be in time. Otha came back and had a really good practice, IMO. I know it's probably not permanent, but just yesterday I told myself maybe they should try TQ some at LB, and sure enough today he was given a look there.
S: McKinney's still learning and growing but he's coming along, IMO. Gaines had a couple of nice PBU's, and of course Alan Turner and Coley did some nice things.
CB: I thought Will Hines had another really good day today. Tevin Mitchel also did very well from what I saw. Jared Collins had a nice PBU against Brandon Allen in team. Really athletic play.