2013 Arkansas Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Arkansas Razorback Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Don't expect the stunning efficiency and brutish power of the Wisconsin offense quite yet. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will want to get the passing game moving in a balanced attack that can do a variety of things well, but Bret Bielema likes the power game and he likes to control games with a ground attack that beats people up. The running backs are there with super-recruit Alex Collins joining Jonathan Williams and a good backfield that should move on and be fine without Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis. Can the line start to blow people off the ball? After finishing dead last in the SEC and 104th in the nation in rushing, there's work to do. Brandon Allen is a decent quarterback prospect, but he needs help from a revamped receiving corps that loses Cobi Hamilton.
Star of the offense: Freshman RB Alex Collins
Passing: Brandon Allen
21-39, 186 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Jonathan Williams
45 carries, 231 yds, 0 TD
Receiving: Mekale McKay
21 catches, 317 yds, 2 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior WR Javontee Herndon
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore QB Brandon Allen
Best pro prospect: Senior C Travis Swanson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Swanson, 2) OT David Hurd, 3) Collins
Strength of the offense: Line, Pass Protection
Weakness of the offense: Wide Receiver, Proven Power Game
It's going to be an ongoing fight for the starting job, but 6-3, 214-pound sophomore Brandon Allen has the inside line with his poise and ability to take care of the ball. He got in a little work last season, but he only completed 43% of his passes for 186 yards with a touchdown and three picks, however, this offseason he didn't force things and didn't take too many chances. A pure pro-style passer who led the way to the Arkansas state championship with close to 4,000 passing yards and 42 touchdowns, he can throw. He won't run, but he's not a bad athlete.
How quickly can new recruit Austin Allen get up to speed? The 6-2, 210-pounder earned the Gatorade Arkansas Player of the Year after leading his team to its second straight state title. A decent runner and a smart, accurate passer, he has more skills, mobility and upside than his older brother Brandon, but he's not as big.
Watch Out For … Damon Mitchell. Don't count out the 6-2, 200-pound freshman quite yet. He might not be the prospect that Allen is, but he's a better runner with dual-threat skills and the potential to add a little something different to the mix. A defensive back in high school as well as a quarterback, he's a dangerous option who might be moved to get him on the field somewhere right away.
Strength: Pro-style passers. Bielema has done more with less. His quarterbacks at Wisconsin didn't always run around – Russell Wilson moved in the pocket more than he did down the field - and he has some big bombers who can balance out the attack.
Weakness: Experience. Allen saw a little bit of action last season, but neither one made anyone want to dump Tyler Wilson. If might have been a rough overall year for Wilson, but he was still a 3,387-yard passer in 11 games with good leadership skills and a great deep arm.
Outlook: Bielema won't be afraid to switch things up on the fly and go with the hot hand. After playing around with the Badger quarterbacks last year, he'll likely be set with Allen. The goal is to keep the interceptions to a bare minimum and let the running game do the work, even if the offense is supposed to be balanced.
Unit Rating: 6.5
So who gets to be the one who runs the ball in the Bret Bielema attack? Hog running backs had to be drooling after the hiring of the former Wisconsin head coach, and sophomore Jonathan Williams will get the first crack. The 6-0, 220-pounder is built well with good toughness through the hole and decent enough cutback ability to get by. He finished third on the team in rushing with 231 yards and averaging 5.1 yards per carry, but he made more of an impact as a receiver with eight catches for 208 yards and two scores highlighted by a 77-yard play against Kentucky. He'll have to battle with some good options, but he has the makeup and the skill to be a workhorse.
There's a chance that Williams, and the other Hog backs, are merely keeping the seat warm until Alex Collins is lathered up. The subject of a wild ride on Signing Day – his mom wasn't too keen on her son going to Arkansas over Miami – the Fort Lauderdale native eventually put his name on the dotted line, and soon he should be a superstar. With 5-11, 207-pound size, phenomenal burst and outstanding balance, he has NFL tools and the ability to be the team's best offensive weapon right out of the box. While he's still a little raw and can't block, with his home-run hitting wheels and all-around game, he's way too good to keep off the field.
Trying to make an impression right away is sophomore Nate Holmes, a tall, slippery 6-1, 176-pounder who's built like a wide receiver, but he can run. A decent punt returner, he only ran for ten yards on three carries and averaged 6.4 yards per punt return, but he's speedy and can cut on a dime. He'll battle with 6-2, 244-pound sophomore Kody Walker, a thumper who saw time in the first two games before getting hurt against ULM and being lost for the season. A touchdown machine in the early part of his career before getting knocked out with an ankle injury, he's a bear around the goal line. Last season, his lone carry went for a one-yard score.
Back after getting hurt early on last season is Kiero Small, a 5-10, 246-pound blaster of a fullback who isn't going to get the ball all that often, if at all, but he can hit and hit hard. Granted an extra year of eligibility after getting hurt in practice, the senior gets one more chance in an offense that should be perfect for his skills. 5-10, 254-pound junior Patrick Arinze is an even bigger blocker who can bring the thump. The former JUCO transfer will never get the ball, but he'll hit and hit hard.
Watch Out For … Denzell Evans. Bielema will find carries for all his talented backs, and just because Alex Collins signed on doesn't mean that Evans will automatically be shoved aside. The Houston native is a 6-0, 205-pound scooter with good speed on the outside.
Strength: The offense. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there's going to be a passing game. You know what's coming, and the running backs have to be delighted. The opportunities will be there to shine in the new Hog attack.
Weakness: Experience. Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis might have had disappointing years, but they were very fast, very good backs who combined for over 1,000 yards with ten scores. It would've been nice if Davis stuck around, and now Williams needs to be the leader despite his limited time.
Outlook: It's all about Collins, who the fans will want to see on the field yesterday. Williams is a good back who can handle the workload, and Holmes and Walker could be a lightning and thunder tandem, but if Collins can live up to the hype, the production will be phenomenal.
Unit Rating: 8
A giant question mar, the receiving corps needs a new No. 1 target to replace Codi Hamilton. 6-6, 195-pound sophomore Mekale McKay has the size and the upside to be the main man in the near future after making 21 catches for 317 yards and two scores as a freshman. While he hit a home run with a 61-yard scoring play early on against ULM, he didn't explode much the rest of the way. Steady more than spectacular, he's good for a few catches per game. However, with his ten starts last season, he's the elder statesman of the receiving corps. He'll have to hold off Demetrius Wilson , a 6-3, 181-pound senior who the coaches liked this offseason. The former transfer from Glendale CC in Arizona made nine catches for 117 yards and a score, but he could be just scratching the surface. Very, very fast, the size and speed are there to be dangerous.
Also ready to see more plays come his way is senior Javontee Herndon, a 6-1, 194-pound senior with smooth moves and good quickness out of his cuts. He caught 21 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns, coming up big in the loss to Mississippi State with six catches for 84 yards, and now he'll be given more playing time in a starting role unless 6-3, 187-pound sophomore D'Arthur Cowan can make a big statement. In a few games of work as a true freshman, he caught three passes for 14 yards, but he showed off a bit on kickoffs returning ten for 176 yards. Like Herndon, he's smooth, but he's a little bit bigger.
6-1, 202-pound senior Julian Horton is a veteran who has been through the rotation over the last few years, and he even got in a little starting work. With some of the best wheels in the receiving corps, the potential is there to be a home run hitter, but it hasn't happened yet. He caught 14 passes for 193 yards and two scores, but he didn't stretch the field like he should've. He'll combined forces with 6-2, 208-pound sophomore Keon Hatcher, a promising target who saw time in the lineup throughout his freshman season making three grabs for 21 yards with a score against South Carolina. A terrific get, the Hogs got him away from Oklahoma, and he could soon blossom with the size and skills to be a No. 1 target in the near future.
With tight end Chris Gragg gone, the combination of 6-4, 265-pound sophomore Mitchell Loewen and 6-6, 266-pound senior Austin Tate will combine at tight end. The big Tate took over when Gragg went down making 14 catches for 111 yards, but he's a blocker. Loewen is a pure blocker who started for five games at tight end, but he'll likely move over to linebacker if he doesn't do anything as a receiver.
Watch Out For … Hunter Henry. The Hogs didn't bring in many top receiver prospects, but they landed a whale of a tight end out of Little Rock. The 6-5, 238-pounder was considered by everyone to be among the nation's top tight end prospects with great size and outstanding receiving skills. If he adds another ten pounds of muscle, he'll look like the prototype.
Strength: The pressure. There isn't much. Yes, the offense will try to throw it a bit – Wisconsin had an ultra-efficient passing game during Bielema's tenure – but the running game will take center stage. As long as these receivers can move the chains on third downs, and if they can block, all will be fine.
Weakness: Cobi Hamilton. Everyone was hoping he could step up, and he sure did with 90 catches for 1,335 yards and five scores. There's talent and ability to pick up the slack, but there isn't a sure-thing Hamilton.
Outlook: It's a rebuilding and revamping receiving corps that has good size, nice speed and a world of potential. A go-to guy has to emerge right away, but the quarterbacks will spread the ball around. The tight end situation could be a plus if Tate starts to catch more and if Henry is ready right away, but it might be a concern if Loewen really does end up at linebacker.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The line did a nice job in pass protection last season but it wasn't nearly effective enough for the ground game. Under the new coaching staff, that has to change in a hurry. Back to try anchoring the line at left tackle is 6-6, 309-pound David Hurd, a starter for most of last season with a nice frame and good run blocking skills. Extremely smart, he's quick, but now, like the rest of the line, he has to be more physical.
Also returning is 6-5, 314-pound senior Travis Swanson at center for his fourth straight season as the starter. The Second Team All-SEC performer is a good leader with great size for the position, and while he's a bit tall and built more like a tackle, he was terrific from Day One. The anchor, this is his line and, for the most part, his offense. A team captain, he's the one everything will be working behind in the interior. He'll be backed up by 6-4, 312-pound junior Luke Charpentier, a versatile blocker who can slip over to guard if needed, starting in place of Tyler Deacon at right guard against Rutgers.
Is this the year when it all comes together for Brey Cook? The star recruit of a few years ago saw time in almost every game as a true freshman, but he only started six times as a sophomore at tackle and now will likely kick inside to guard. At 6-7 and 317 pounds he has tremendous size and has the athleticism to grow into the position and become an interesting pro prospect inside, but he could easily move back to the outside without a problem. The talent is there – everyone who's anyone wanted him – and he has the upside to be fantastic in a big hurry. He could end up at either guard spot, while 6-4, 313-pound sophomore Mitch Smothers getting the long look on the left side. Expected to be a part of the mix last year, he ended up redshirting and now will play anywhere he's needed up front with the ability to move to center if needed. A good prospect, he should shine now that he gets to blast away.
6-5, 274-pound sophomore Grady Ollison isn't quite the space-eater the coaching staff might like at right tackle, but he'll get a long look at the spot after spending last season as mostly a special teamer. A top high school defensive lineman, he's still learning on the fly, but he has the combination of toughness, athleticism and frame to grow into a job over the next three years. He'll be pushed by 6-7, 318-pound junior Chris Stringer, a career backup who was banged up early in his career but saw time as a special teamer. The former JUCO transfer from Citrus College has the bulk to fit in nicely with the new style.
Watch Out For … Denver Kirkland. The coaching staff came up with a few nice pickups this offseason including JUCO transfer John McClure at left guard and massive 6-10, 295-pound Dan Skipper at tackle, but the 6-5, 320-pound Kirkland is the star blocker of the class. The Miami native got away from all the Sunshine State schools and should be a key part of the line inside sooner than later. He's too big, too tough and too good to keep off the field.
Strength: Pass protection. By design, the line was put together to handle itself well against pass rushing SEC defensive lines, and it showed allowing just 18 sacks on 459 pass attempts. The goal will be to start blasting away, but keeping the new starting quarterback upright shouldn't be a big problem.
Weakness: Blasting away. Bielema and offensive line coach Sam Pittman will want the front five to blast away and start burying people, but it's not really built to do that. It's one thing to be physical, but it's another to do it in the SEC against the Alabamas and LSUs of the world.
Outlook: Don't expect a Badger front five quite yet. Bielema has made it very, very clear that he want his team to beat people up and be physical, but that might be trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. There's talent, size and experience, but the line that couldn't blow over anyone last year has to suddenly get nasty. It'll be better, but it won't be quite what Bielema wants.
Unit Rating: 7
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