FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen opened preseason practice where he left off in April, working with the first-team offense.
It was no surprise. He earned the job in the spring and watched his biggest competitor transfer a few weeks later. He’s all but certain to lead the Razorbacks into the huddle for the season opener, too, working as the only quarterback on the roster that has thrown a game day pass in an Arkansas uniform.
Allen doesn’t want to hear it, though.
The sophomore still insists he has something to prove the next few weeks.
“It’s always a competition out there,” Allen said Tuesday. “Even right now.”
Allen — who will step into the huddle for Arkansas’ opener barring some unforeseen mishap — is practicing the credo that nothing is guaranteed as he takes the next step to starting job this month.
Everyone knows Allen won the spot with a strong spring and became even more entrenched at the position when Brandon Mitchell moved on to North Carolina State. But Allen doesn’t simply want to be Arkansas’ starter. He wants to succeed in the role.
So Allen is coming off a summer in which he emphasized improvement with his leadership skills by taking on more responsibility during player-led workouts. He worked to understand every intricacy of Arkansas’ offense in the offseason, too.
Allen even added 10 pounds to his frame, pushing his weight up to 220.
“Once I was named the starter, that was kind of something I took upon myself to be the leader of the team, or one of the leaders of the team,” Allen said. “Obviously we have a few who are already established. I'm trying to do my part, trying to be someone the whole offense can look to if they need something, if they need to know what's going on with a play or something like that. I've really taken the time to study a lot and make sure I know what's going on out there.”
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said the determination is clear with Allen turning in two solid practices, picking up where he left off in the spring. Chaney couldn’t work with Allen on the field in the summer, but said one thing he has noticed is his quarterback emerged from the three months off the field with more confidence.
It has parlayed into improvement in other areas.
“When kids get more comfort and they invest more, they tend to have more leadership,” Chaney said. “Brandon has put a lot of time in and become a better football player. With that, you feel a little more comfortable vocalizing.
“I think that’s what I’m seeing right now. He ain’t a senior. This is a young kid and he’s still figuring his way out and he’s doing a good job with it.”
Allen leads an inexperienced quarterback room that consists of No. 2 AJ Derby, Brian Beuhner, Austin Allen and Damon Mitchell. Derby — an Iowa transfer — is the only other quarterback on the roster that has thrown a pass in a college game.
Developing capable backups is an important goal for the Razorbacks this month, but receiver Julian Horton said the first two practices have shown Allen is comfortable as Arkansas’ starter.
“He’s gotten more confident. He’s gotten better,” Horton said. “With B-Mitch gone, he knows he’s the man. He knows he’s the No. 1 starter and he doesn’t have to think about anything anymore. He’s not nervous about it. He’s more confident in that role. He’s more vocal. And he’s going to be a better quarterback because of it.”
Said receiver Javontee Herndon: “The more he grows into the offense, the more confidence he has and it's been showing so far.”
Allen said the compliments from teammates mean plenty as Arkansas continues to build toward its first season under coach Bret Bielema.
Allen point out he’s getting plenty of help from receivers and the offensive line as well.
Allen said he’s not the only one that has something to prove the next few weeks.
“We feel like that our season last year obviously didn't go the way anybody wanted it to,” Allen said. “So we're coming out and we've got a chip on our shoulder and we're trying to prove some things to a lot of people.”