With Tyler Wilson off to the NFL after two seasons as Arkansas starting quarterback, arguably the main focus for the Razorbacks during their first spring practice under Bret Bielema is to at least begin the process of separating contenders from pretenders at the position.
One week into the 15 allotted spring sessions? Two of the contenders appear to be standing a bit taller than the others.
In his first extensive comments to the media since spring practice began a week ago today, Bielema allowed that a pair of Brandons — Allen and Mitchell — have nudged ahead slightly in the chase to replace Wilson.
“I think there is no doubt on offense the key is going to be who is going to be our trigger puller, and I think Brandon Allen (pictured) and Brandon Mitchell both have shown that they’ve been ahead of the curve,” Bielema said in comments distributed by the school.
The fact that Allen and Mitchell would be ahead of the quarterback game just a handful of practices into the spring makes sense.
Allen, the presumptive front-runner heading into the spring, played in five games as a redshirt freshman in 2012 as Wilson’s primary backup. The four-star member of UA’s 2011 recruiting class started one of those games — the 52-0 lay-down at the hands of Alabama — and completed less than 50 percent of his passes (21-49) for one touchdown and three interceptions on the season. As the No. 5 pro-style QB in his class, and on paper, it appears to be Allen’s job to lose.
Mitchell, on the other hand, comes into his redshirt senior spring after spending the 2012 season at the wide receiver position — for the most part. In 2011, Mitchell served as Wilson’s backup after falling short in that season’s competition.
Technically speaking, though, it’s a five-man competition, with Brian Buehner, A.J. Derby and Taylor Reed (no relation) filling in the roster at the position. The latter two came to the Razorbacks as transfers, Reed from Memphis and Derby from Iowa by way of the JUCO ranks. Interestingly, Bielema chose to extensively single out the latter when questioned on the battle for the starting job.
“I would say that A.J. Derby has shown that he is definitely a guy that can manage a game,” the coach said. “He has been in that position and impressed us. He is a thirsty kid, who is always eager to learn.”
While Derby may be at least on the periphery of the discussion at the moment — and Reed could eventually based on experience alone (nine starts at Memphis as a true freshman in 2011) — there’s little doubt who has made the biggest impression thus far.
“I would think that the more reps we can get to those five guys the better off we are going to be, especially the top two in Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell,” Bielema said.
In other words, and until further notice, this is a two-horse race for the Hogs.