Arkansas position battles: Quarterback, linebacker, No. 2 wideout becoming clearer
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ fall camp is about halfway finished now. The Razorbacks’ first game is just 18 days away and a number of positions remain up for grabs.
Now with a second scrimmage out of the way — it concluded Saturday afternoon in front of fans — those races are becoming somewhat clearer. Tighter, anyway.
Let’s talk a look at three of the most important position battles and where they stand as we get closer to the opener with Florida A&M on Thursday, Aug. 31.
- Ty Storey, sophomore: Storey took the first batch of first-team reps in Saturday’s scrimmage. The way Bielema ran the scrimmage, though, that doesn’t mean anything. Units were mixed and matched all over the place. That said, it does suggest Storey hasn’t been leapfrogged by his competition, at least not yet. Storey held the ball a little too long — a usual concern — but delivered passes as crisp and clean as he has in open practice or game competition, save one or two, including a final one on his first series that should have been intercepted. Now in his third year in the Arkansas program, Storey has been the backup to Austin Allen for more than a calendar year now.
- Cole Kelley, redshirt freshman: The first pass Kelley threw Saturday went for more than 30 yards. There was audible cheering from the fans who came to watch. It was also a throw to a wide-open receiver with zero pressure. Still, it was a throw that has to be made and Kelley deserves credit for making it. He also has, still, clearly the strongest arm. Far more zip than Storey on the deep ball. And Kelley’s biggest bugaboo – a tendency to throw wildly into coverage – never reared its head. Kelley had the better day Saturday, certainly.
- Who has the edge? Storey, but it’s a tenuous hold.
- Dwayne Eugene, senior: A converted safety, Eugene has been a plugger since coming to Arkansas. He finally earned his stripes last year, getting regular duty in the second half of the season after Dre Greenlaw was lost for the year. In fact, he started a lot of those games, but that was at inside. Now Eugene is back on the outside. He’s slimmed down to in order to play faster, too, in hopes of getting and keeping a starting role on a full-time basis. As of Saturday, he was a second-teamer, but it’s on a knife’s edge.
- Karl Roesler, senior: The perpetual overachiever, Karl Roesler wasn’t supposed to get reps two years ago. He got them anyway. He wasn’t supposed to get reps last year either, and he got them then, too. Even this year, Roesler was considered more of a backup to the outside linebacker on the other side, Randy Ramsey, than a starter opposite him. Nope. As of Saturday, Roesler was getting first-team duties over Eugene.
- Who has the edge? Roesler has done more in game competition in his career than Eugene. Also, Eugene can play any of the four linebacker positions on the field, which is helpful to a team lacking depth, but means he’s more likely to be a plug-and-play backup than a starter.
No. 2 wide receiver
- Jordan Jones, redshirt freshman: Jones is the most athletic wide receiver on the roster, and he has the most potential. He was the player most-often mentioned by the coaching staff last year as a redshirt who could contribute quickly. All those positives have remained for most of the fall, too, but Jones did let freshman cornerback Kamren Curl flat handle him on a route about halfway through the scrimmage, though. A deep ball on a post route saw Storey try to get it to Jones in 1-on-1 coverage. Curl outran Jones and got around him to get to the ball first. And he did it easily.
- Jonathan Nance, sophomore: Saturday was a quiet day for the junior college transfer. That isn’t really a bad thing. Nance has been stable and reliable in his first fall camp at Arkansas. He can play slot or out wide, which is helpful for him being on the field in some capacity this season. He’s a lot like Deon Stewart — unlisted in this because he’s more likely to be a slot guy — in that regard.
- La’Michael Pettway, sophomore: Pettway has the size SEC teams covet at wide receiver. But with a batch of receivers with similar skills, he has not yet established himself above the pack. The potential remains, but Pettway must also stay off Bielema’s bad side to earn as many snaps as his size suggests he should get.
- Who has the edge? It’s probably Jones. Nance might ultimately see more snaps as the season goes because of his ability to play anywhere among the receivers. Jones’ upside might be too much to keep him off the field.