Moving parts across the Arkansas Razorbacks offense are going to be common for the next couple weeks. In the second practice open to the media, and just the third overall this fall, there were already two differences in the first team compared to practice No. 1
Only one position is guaranteed not to change. Austin Allen will be the quarterback. No ifs, ands or buts. Yes, for the sticklers, it is contingent on him being healthy. But nothing short of an injury bad enough to keep him out a regular-season week would allow him to be displaced from the job.
He speaks confidently for a guy with all kinds of motion around him. Saturday he had a new left guard and a new wide receiver on the outside. Jake Raulerson was in for Zach Rogers on the offensive line. Cody Hollister supplanted Dominique Reed on the exterior. If there no more changes anywhere, every onlooker would be shocked.
“It all starts with the linemen,” Allen said. “If they linemen don’t play well it’s not a good success for us. They know it all starts up front with them. The wideouts, quarterbacks, running backs all know it starts up front with them.”
Raulerson’s move to the starting unit was not totally unexpected. He has more experience than anyone on the Arkansas offensive line except right tackle Dan Skipper and center Frank Ragnow. his experience just didn’t come with the Razorbacks. He’s a Texas transfer and a former starter for the Longhorns at center. The likelihood of him staying among the starting five, whether at guard or moving back to center, either way, is high.
Hollister-for-Reed is another story. Coaches hinted in the spring Hollister was making a play for more duty. His spring was solid, but unspectacular during scrimmages. But it made sense. Hollister has always been a coach favorite, though his athleticism lagged behind in recent years.
Reed, on the other hand, has played himself out of the role as starter. A speed demon, it took Reed half the season to grasp the intricacies of the offense last year, his first coming over from junior college. Once he did, he was a house on fire, easily the most dangerous receiver on the team, though not the most fundamental or primary threat. His fall started in the spring, when wide receivers coach Michael Smith openly said he wanted more from Reed. Head coach Bret Bielema added to that Thursday during his season-opening press conference.
“He hasn’t had a great summer,” Bielema said. “I’m not gonna cater to someone who’s half-in, half-out. I want to see him see the ball in and that’ll bring great results.”
Bielema used a similar approach during bits of last year before the season when dealing with Alex Collins. When Jonathan Williams was lost for the year, Collins was forced to mature, in a sense. And while no one is hoping Hollister goes down, Bielema and company are hoping something fires to motivate Reed into re-earning the starting job, or, at least, regular reps as he’s still the most dangerous player on the roster with the ball in his hands.
All the while Allen waits, watches, throws and adjusts. He has Drew Morgan to help rally the troops when needed, including Reed. It’s a role Arkansas’ leading receiver relishes, of course. He’s in top form when he’s psyched, which he was during his media availability. dropping one-liners left and right. He offered his thoughts on Reed, too.
“That cat can run. Everybody can see that. He can catch, too. He’s just got to get that offense down and get that confidence in himself,” Morgan.
The longer-term shuffling is on the line. Raulerson is a dual-position player, able to play center and guard. First-team center Frank Ragnow was the starting right guard last year. Brian Wallace was tried on the inside in the spring, though he’s shifted back outside as the No. 2 right tackle behind Dan Skipper for now. And speaking of Skipper, when asked whether he’s glad to stick at tackle, the preseason All-SEC lineman didn’t exactly eliminate the possibility of his perhaps moving, either.
“That’s not for sure yet. It’s all about getting the best five.”
As of Saturday that was, from left to right: Colton Jackson, Hjalte Froholdt, Frank Ragnow, Jake Raulerson and Dan Skipper. The second team: Paul Ramirez, Deion Malone, Zach Rogers, Jalen Merrick and Brian Wallace.
When the crew is established, it will be one less worry for a team breaking in a first-year quarterback.
“It just kind of clicked in my head that I needed to be all the way in and just follow in Brandon’s footsteps, following what Brandon did in the film room and all that and just try to learn from him,” Austin Allen said. “I mean, that’s kind of when it really clicked.”