Four Downs: Austin Allen Confident in Backup Role


1. Allen Takes Backup Role: Arkansas coach Bret Bielema answered one of the Razorbacks’ key preseason questions last Saturday, naming Austin Allen the No. 2 quarterback.

The redshirt freshman said Monday he’s ready for the responsibility.

“I feel like I can step in there and run the offense and know what (offensive coordinator Jim) Chaney wants and lead the team,” Allen said.

Allen edged freshman Rafe Peavey in the preseason competition for the position, backing up starter Brandon Allen. The former Fayetteville High star went 10-for-21 for 86 yards with a touchdown against the first-team defense in last Saturday’s scrimmage in Razorback Stadium. But Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said Allen’s familiarity with the offense helped him earn the backup job.

“Austin has had a solid camp,” Chaney said. “Like on Saturday, he got to go against the one defense and that usually changes things statistically a little bit. Austin has done a good job and Rafe has also. I’m pleased with both of those guys today and as it sits, it’s Austin and Rafe. But those two are competing against each other and keep it going so it is exciting to watch them grow and play.”

Chaney said Arkansas feels better about its backup quarterback situation after struggling last season when Brandon Allen went down with a shoulder injury.

AJ Derby filled in for Allen the final three quarters of the 24-3 win against Southern Miss and in the 28-24 loss at Rutgers. The offense struggled during that stretch, but Chaney believes his backup is better prepared after a year in the system.

Austin Allen said he is much more comfortable after a productive offseason.

“I’d say just in the playbook and knowing where to go with the ball,” Allen said about his progression. “Last year I’d get the ball and know where one guy was, and then not really know the second option or anything like that. This year I know where the check downs are and it’s been a lot better for me.”

Allen doesn’t plan to get comfortable with his position as Arkansas’ backup, though.

He still has his eyes on the starting job. It’s part of his responsibilities as the backup.

“I’m glad he has confidence in me in that, but everyone’s always going to keep working,” Allen said. “I’ve got to get better and try to take Brandon’s spot and Rafe’s got to get better and try to make my spot. Everyone’s always trying to get better.”

Allen was asked if he has told his older brother of the plan.

“Sometimes,” Allen said. “But he always gives me a punch or something like that.”

2. Ragnow Pressing Smothers: Offensive line coach Sam Pittman said junior Mitch Smothers remains Arkansas’ first-team center. But Pittman added if freshman Frank Ragnow continues to develop this week there could be a “big-time competition” for the starting role.

Pittman praised Ragnow’s growth Monday, saying the newcomer improved more than he could’ve imagined in one week. Ragnow, who is working at center for the first time in his football career, spent time with the first-team offense last Saturday as the Razorbacks continue to evaluate their depth chart at the position.

“He’s very athletic and very strong. He’s a really good pass protector,” Pittman said. “And when he fits on you, he moves you. I really don’t care who it is, he moves you. It’s like anything. Once you get a guy experience, if he’s a good player, he’s going to become a better player. He’s quite a get in recruiting and we’re going to use him as fast as he can, when he’s ready.”

The Razorbacks pressed Ragnow last week to find out if he was suited for a second-team role behind Smothers or if first-team left guard Luke Charpentier was the better choice. But Ragnow may not simply settle for the backup role.

“Frank’s at least the No. 2,” Pittman said. “I don’t think we’d go with Charpentier at this point at center. I think Frank’s a two, and he’s pressing on Mitch to be a one and they know that. They’ve got a good battle. That’s always a good thing.”

3. Slimming Down: Junior college transfer Sebastian Tretola continues to shed weight this month after reporting to campus weighing 370 pounds. Tretola said he’s down to 350 pounds.

“It’s nice going out there slimmer, lighter to practice every day,” Tretola said.

Tretola said a combination of daily practices and a diet helped him shed 20 pounds in two weeks. He’s getting plenty of help from strength coach Ben Herbert.

“The other day at dinner I had a huge plate and he kind of took it from me and cut it up and split it up,” Tretola said. “He said, ‘Do you want to eat some of this now and save some for tomorrow?’ So I really credit a lot to him.”

Tretola has been practicing with the first-team offense at right guard since late last week, filling in for injured starter Denver Kirkland (head injury). Tretola said he’s also gotten some work at left guard as he works to trim down to 330 pounds.

“That’s my goal weight. Hopefully I can get there before Auburn. That’s only two weeks but I have lost 20. So another 20 in two weeks, that will be solid.”

4. Extra Points

• Chaney said he was pleased with the first-team offense’s efficiency during last Saturday’s scrimmage. He said the success was especially evident in the ground game, which was led by running backs Korliss Marshall and Alex Collins. “We felt like in the run game, with the 17 runs, we won 15 of them, which is a high efficiency,” Chaney said. “We were explosive and we ran the ball well.”

• Arkansas will work in the most humid conditions of the summer with temperatures expected to top the 90-degree mark every day this week. Receivers coach Michael Smith said the heat is needed with the season opener in less than two weeks. “Let’s go get it,” Smith said. “It’s going to be hot at Auburn.”

• WR Jojo Robinson was impressive in his scrimmage debut Saturday. It didn’t come as any surprise to Smith. “I told you guys he is good with the ball in his hands,” Smith said. “It’s my job to get him in the right place and get him to make those situations occur. He did that this last weekend and did some nice things for us.”

• Tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. and other Arkansas assistants got to enjoy a little family time Monday morning. Bielema restructured meeting times to allow his staff members take their children to school on the first day of classes. “He always stresses to us that family is first,” Lunney said. “Whether it’s been getting stitches or one being sick or school day, if you go into him and tell him he’s always been really, really understanding of that. … So I’m thankful for that. It was fun.”

— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau