Bret Bielema kicked off his second season as Arkansas' head coach on Sunday, when the Razorbacks kicked off spring practice in Fayetteville.
At the top of mind for all Hog fans is the quarterback position, where incumbent starter Brandon Allen will attempt to fend off the challenges of several signal-callers for the starting spot, including his brother Austin, senior AJ Derby, redshirt freshman Damon Mitchell and true freshman early enrollee Rafe Peavey.
It's a wide-open race.
|Arkansas QBs in 2013|
Allen was less-than-stellar in 2013, completing 49.6 percent of his passes (128-of-258) for 1,552 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 picks, as the Razorbacks sputtered to a 3-9 record including nine straight losses to close out the season. Allen was especially inconsistent against conference foes, where he tossed nine picks and only eight of his touchdown passes.
Job No. 1 for Bielema is to have the quarterback picture come into focus this spring.
The elder Allen is going to have a leg up on the competition based on his experience from last season, even though there's nearly as much negative as positive experience to build off of. That's ok though. Sometimes knowing what not to do is more important than knowing what to do.
But Allen's younger brother Austin may present the biggest challenge for the job.
He threw for 7,676 yards, 75 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions from 2011-12 at Fayetteville (Ark.) High School after his brother moved on to the Hogs. After a redshirt year becoming accustomed to what Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney want to do with the offense, he is now in a perfect position to unseat his brother and win the starting job.
Bielema made a name for himself at Wisconsin as a coach with an old-school, power approach, but Chaney is more flexible and spread the ball around at Tennessee when he had Tyler Bray taking the snaps.
The wild card is Peavey, who needs to push everybody this spring in order to raise the level of competition and separate the winners from losers. That would accomplish two things, it'd give Peavey a chance to win the job himself and—more important for Bielema—dwindle the competition down and bring the quarterback race more into focus by the close of spring practice.
That's the most important piece of the puzzle for the Hogs.
A team that's as one-dimensional as Arkansas was last season can't afford to have first team reps taken away from the eventual winner due to a crowded field. The Hogs' offense has to evolve, and it isn't going to do that spinning its wheels looking for a quarterback for the second straight season.
Bielema needs to get his quarterbacks down to two and, at the very most, three if Peavey is still involved by the end of spring practice.
You can't have a power running game without an offense that at least poses the threat of taking the top off of a defense, and Arkansas needs to develop that threat this spring, not during fall camp.
Someone needs to step up, and if nobody does, it could be another long year in Northwest Arkansas.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All college statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com and all high school statistics and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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