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Four Downs: Austin Allen’s Summer Improvement


1. QB Conversation: Arkansas coaches and players believe quarterback Brandon Allen made impressive strides in the summer to prepare for the 2014 season.

He wasn’t the only Allen to make an impression on coach Bret Bielema as the Razorbacks kicked off preseason camp Monday afternoon.

“I think Austin really has taken a step this summer,” Bielema said. “I’m excited to watch him. I think he has better understanding. He also has a better understanding of what’s expected of him. I think his older brother rubbed off a little bit there.”

Allen — who redshirted last season — is competing with freshman Rafe Peavey for the backup job this preseason.

There’s no doubt Brandon Allen will be Arkansas’ starter when the season begins, but developing a dependable backup is an important objective of preseason camp. The Razorbacks also plan to give A.J. Derby some work at the position as well, although he’ll continue to prepare for his role at tight end.

“Rafe by no means is disappointing,” Bielema said. “I thought he threw the ball extremely well (Monday). I think Rafe is a such a pleaser. Obviously he grew up with a dad in his life that was very high demanding, and he always wanted to please his dad, please his mom, and sometimes you’ve got to get a kid like that to kind of be de-sensitized to, ‘Listen, if you make a mistake, it’s OK, we’re going to live through it.’

“He’s so wired to not make a mistake. He’s got a live arm. He’s extremely talented, He’s very smart, extremely gifted. I think he could have a really big month for us.”

Both quarterbacks are expected to get plenty of repetitions over the next four weeks as the Razorbacks work on their backup plan. In fact, Bielema wants to make sure the two combine to get as many snaps as Allen in Saturday’s scrimmage.

“It’s fun to watch our players react to them because when they make a great throw — Rafe had a great throw there at the end — and everybody was excited,” Bielema said. “I think everybody knows to have that backup quarterback is essential.”

2. On Auburn Suspensions: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said last week quarterback Nick Marshall and cornerback Jonathan Mincy will not start the season opener against Arkansas as part of their punishment for offseason incidents.

But Malzahn added both still will play against the Razorbacks on Aug. 30.

Bielema didn’t sound surprised by the decision Monday.

“Obviously, (Marshall’s) a very, very good football player,” Bielema said. “However long he stays on the sideline is obviously in their coach’s hands. But I think when we’re playing Auburn, if you’re a true competitor you want to play against the best. … That other guy is going to step in and he is a tremendous player.”

Marshall enters the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate after leading the Tigers to the national title game last season. He completed 7 of 8 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown in a 35-17 win against Arkansas last season.

Sophomore Jeremy Johnson will replace Marshall as Auburn’s starter. Bielema described him as a “tremendous talent” after throwing for 393 yards and 6 touchdowns in six games last season.

But Arkansas defensive tackle Demarcus Hodge said it doesn’t matter which quarterback the Razorbacks face at Auburn.

“We’re going to base it off Nick like he was (playing),” Hodge said. “And if this new guy comes in, we’re going to play our defense. We’re going to play what we know to play. We’re going to play Arkansas Razorback defense.”

3. A little heavy: Offensive linemen Cameron Jefferson and Sebastian Tretola weren’t on campus this summer. So Arkansas got its first look at the transfers Monday.

Bielema believes Jefferson can help immediately. Tretola has some work to do.

“Sebastian came in and I’m sure would be the first to tell you that he is a little bit heavy,” Bielema said. “When I saw him I could see he put on a little bit of weight.

“But I know he is in the frame of mind I like. Him and Cameron both, to walk in that O-line room they are both engaged in every play. Even if they are not running with a certain unit they are asking what the play is.”

4. Extra Points: Bielema said there was “really no health issues” as camp began. CB Tevin Mitchel (shoulder) is wearing a green non-contact jersey after undergoing offseason surgery. DE Mitchell Loewen (knee) also is a “little bit limited.” … Former Arkansas cornerback Chris Murphy has transferred to Cincinnati, according to CBSSports.com. Murphy enrolled at Arkansas last January, but decided to leave the program after only one semester. … DirecTV announced it has reached an agreement with ESPN to carry the SEC Network. DirecTV, which has 20 million customers, was the last major provider that hadn’t reached an agreement to carry the SEC Network. It now means the SEC Network will be in roughly 87 million households at its launch date. … Arkansas has added UT-Martin to its 2015 football schedule. The game has been scheduled for Oct. 31, 2015, and will be played in Razorback Stadium, according to UT-Martin’s website. The Razorbacks also have nonconference home games against Texas Tech, Toledo and UTEP in 2015.

— Robbie Neiswanger • rneiswanger@arkansasnews.com