After a long three-month wait, Arkansas football is finally back.
The Razorbacks kick off spring practice Tuesday, and it may be the most important spring yet under coach Bret Bielema. Arkansas has steadily improved its record from 3-9 to 7-6 to 8-5 in the first three years of the Bielema era, but the Razorbacks will be forced to replace a ton of offensive production in year four.
If Arkansas can find replacement to fill those voids, it could be another step in the right direction in 2016. If not, the Razorbacks will lean on a young defense that returns most starters.
It should be an action-packed few weeks on the Arkansas practice fields, and we’ll know a lot more about what the Razorbacks will look like after the annual Red-White game on April 23.
Here are the biggest storylines surrounding Arkansas heading into the spring:
Who wins the quarterback battle?
With Brandon Allen no longer in Fayetteville, Ark., the Hogs should look more like a traditional Bielema-coached team with an emphasis on running the ball. However, this is the SEC, and it’s hard to rack up wins without strong play at quarterback.
Allen’s younger brother, Austin Allen, has a leg up heading into the spring based on his time spent in the system, but redshirt sophomore Rafe Peavey, redshirt freshman Ty Storey and Southern Cal transfer Ricky Town will all battle for the starting job.
Allen, Storey and Town were all four-star quarterbacks coming out of high school, and fit the pro-style mold that Bielema typically utilizes. However, Peavey is a dual-threat guy who could give the Razorbacks a different look.
Can Arkansas get the ground game going?
Arkansas lost three starters along the offensive line, and running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams have also moved on to the NFL. To say there are questions surrounding the Razorbacks’ ground game is a bit of an understatement.
Sure, offensive tackle Dan Skipper and offensive guard Frank Ragnow are back along with running back Kody Walker, but there is a ton of production to replace, and coaches will need to start determining the best candidates to do that this spring.
There will be a logjam on the offensive line, as that battle will likely see a combination of different lineups throughout the spring. At running back, all eyes will be on Denzell Evans and Juan Day to see if they can provide the depth Arkansas is used to seeing at running back.
Can the Razorbacks find defensive depth?
Last season, Arkansas was tasked with replacing a ton of production on the defensive side of the ball. Now, the Razorbacks return most of a defense that finished 11th in the SEC in total defense.
The biggest objective this spring will be to add depth behind the returning starters.
Most of the attention will be on the secondary, which played a part in giving up 275.2 passing yards per game (last in the SEC). But building depth at linebacker will also be key in helping improve the Razorbacks’ pass defense.
Up front, Arkansas was pretty stout along the defensive line, as the Razorbacks finished second in the conference in rush defense giving up just 116.5 yards per game on the ground, which trailed only Alabama among SEC squads.