FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas held its second scrimmage of spring practice Saturday afternoon inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The scrimmage was 138 plays and the last before the April 29 spring game.
Here are five observations and some extra information from the scrimmage:
Brandon Martin shows off talent
Wide receiver Brandon Martin arrived at Arkansas in January with plenty of hype surrounding him. His abilities had him widely regarded as a top 10 junior college recruit in the 2017 class. He showed glimpses Saturday of why that was the case.
Martin had 6 catches for 73 yards, both team highs, and an 18-yard touchdown. He also had a 21-yard catch he finished off by running over safety Josh Liddell, who he caught the touchdown over.
Though Martin was working primarily with the second team, he wasn’t working entirely against inexperienced defensive backs. Liddell, a senior, has 25 starts over three seasons. It would have been interesting to see how Martin performed against starting corners Ryan Pulley and Henre’ Toliver.
Regardless of who was in coverage, it was apparent Martin (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) knows how to use his size to his advantage. He sort of looks like a rebounder easily blocking out opponents in the low post when the ball is thrown his way. He seems almost too big to be bothered by most cornerbacks. Once he gets the ball, he presents another issue for defenders with how difficult he is to bring down.
Otherwise at wide receiver, sophomore T.J. Hammonds had a bounce-back performance after struggling last Saturday. The converted running back caught 3 passes for 27 yards while working with the first and second team. He appears to be adjusting nicely to playing the slot, which is a good fit for his skill set.
Defense brings the pressure
For the first time in its new 3-4 defense, Arkansas began blitzing this week. The added pressures played a major role in the unit having a better scrimmage than last week.
Arkansas had 12 plays Saturday whistled dead as sacks. It’s important to note with defenders not permitted to tackle quarterbacks, that number is inflated because it’s impossible to count true sacks. Still, the pressure was there. Sophomore defensive lineman T.J. Smith was the main culprit on three of those 12 plays.
The Razorbacks weren’t bad at rushing the passer last season, but they never did much to confuse opposing offensive lines. Their goal is to change that drastically during the 2017 season.
Coach Bret Bielema has mentioned several times that well-disguised pressure is one of the top advantages to playing a 3-4 defense. That was apparent Saturday. They came from outside linebacker, inside linebacker, linebackers twisted in or outside and nickelbacks coming off the edge. Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads is only scratching the surface of what he’ll eventually implement.
An underrated part of this may be how much it helps the starting offensive line. That group was poor most of last season in picking up various blitz looks from opponents. That’s probably part of why the defense had success Saturday. But as they see it from their own guys more, it’s likely they’ll develop a higher level of comfort in those situations next season.
Johnny Gibson returns to starting lineup
Coach Bret Bielema said last month returning right guard Johnny Gibson would not be working with the first team this spring. Bielema said it was a matter of Gibson needing to earn back the trust of his coaches and teammates.
Well, that didn’t take as long as anticipated, since Gibson was back as the starter at right guard Saturday. He was, in my opinion, the most-impressive offensive lineman on the field throughout the day. He’s a really talented run blocker, as he showed last season.
QBs find the end zone
Six quarterbacks saw action Saturday. Five threw a touchdown pass. All of those came inside the 25-yard line. That’s a drastic improvement from last week when the Hogs failed to find the end zone on several attempts in that area.
Though he had a 16-yard touchdown pass to receiver La’Michael Pettway, starting quarterback Austin Allen didn’t have his best day. Ryan Pulley and Henre’ Toliver probably deserve a lot of credit for that. The starting corners have been impressive this spring and were again Saturday. Allen struggled to find guys open on several occasions, though he did do a nice job of stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure and buy more time.
As for the backup quarterback spot, there was no clear separation between Ty Storey and Cole Kelley. If anyone has a slight edge at this point, it’s probably Storey. He does of nice job of staying within his capabilities and limiting potentially bad plays.
While Kelley has better skills, he’s shown a tendency to get away from the fundamentals of what the coaching staff is asking him to do. For example, he slung an off-balance pass to tight end Jack Kraus while under pressure and it resulted in an interception off Kraus’ hands. Offensive coordinator Dan Enos clearly told him after the play he should have stepped up in the pocket rather than slide to the side and force a throw.
Too many OL penalties
The offensive line was called for a handful of false starts. The most notable were two in the red zone that incensed coach Bret Bielema.
Left tackle Colton Jackson had the first while the first-team offense was at the 6-yard line. Bielema could clearly be heard shouting: “We can’t have that! You can’t do that! Not down here!”
Bielema had a similar reaction a few plays later when the second unit was called for a false start just inside the 20-yard line.
The movement up front was something Bielema said he told the referees to be on the lookout for all afternoon. He clearly, for obvious reasons, wants his team to be disciplined in that area.
- Starting offense: Austin Allen (QB), Kendrick Jackson (FB), Rawleigh Williams III (RB), Austin Cantrell (TE), Deon Stewart (WR), La’Michael Pettway (WR), Colton Jackson (LT), Hjalte Froholdt (LG), Zach Rogers (C), Johnny Gibson (RG), Brian Wallace (RT).
- Starting defense: Ryan Pulley (CB), Henre’ Toliver (CB), Santos Ramirez (S), De’Andre Coley (S), Karl Roesler (OLB), Randy Ramsey (OLB), De’Jon Harris (ILB), Josh Harris (ILB), McTelvin Agim (DE), Austin Capps (DT), Armon Watts (DE).
- Wide receiver Jared Cornelius is dealing with a tweaked hamstring and did not participate.
- The defense was better against the run than a week ago, but the backs still had good moments. Devwah Whaley led the way with 91 yards on 18 carries. His 51-yard run was the longest play of the day. Returning starter Rawleigh Williams III was steady and reliable, as usual. Maleek Williams, a freshman early enrollee, continued his impressive spring. He was especially productive in short-yardage situations.
- Cole Hedlund made all four of his field goal attempts with a long of 45 yards prior to the scrimmage. He was also good from 24 yards and missed an attempt off the right upright later in the day.
- Blake Johnson, the starter all spring at punter, did not participate. Bielema said after the scrimmage he was not with the team because he is in “extreme timeout” for the day. He apparently injured his ankle doing something outside of football.
- Wide receiver Jordan Jones was the first to field punts with Jared Cornelius out. Running back Rawleigh Williams III was second. Coach Bret Bielema was adamant after the scrimmage that Williams would not return punts during the season.
- No surprise, but … senior center Frank Ragnow was not suited up for a second straight Saturday scrimmage. He is not injured. Bielema said last week he’s limiting Ragnow this spring because he doesn’t feel the risk/reward is worth it.
- Bielema said after the scrimmage redshirt freshman linebacker Alexy Jean-Baptiste is out with a broken foot. He had surgery and is facing a four-month recovery.
Austin Allen: 7-15, 56, TD
Ty Storey: 7-12, 69
Cole Kelley: 6-9, 60, TD, INT
Jack Lindsey: 5-5, 44, TD
Daulton Hyatt: 2-3, 24, TD
Carson Proctor: 2-3, 35, TD
Devwah Whaley: 18-91
Rawleigh Williams III: 17-77, TD
Maleek Williams: 18-72, TD
Juan Day: 5-34
Connor McPherson: 14-32
Justice Hobbs: 1-0
Brandon Martin: 6-73, TD
T.J. Hammonds: 3-27
River Warnock: 2-28, TD
Troy Allison: 2-27
La’Michael Pettway: 2-21, TD
Deon Stewart: 2-16
Cheyenne O’Grady: 2-14
Connor McPherson: 2-9
Tobias Enlow: 1-22, TD
Kofi Boateng: 1-12, TD
Tyson Morris: 1-9
Austin Cantrell: 1-8
Hayden Johnson: 1-7
Jack Kraus: 1-6
Will Gragg: 1-6
Jonathan Nance: 1-4