FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema unveiled his post-spring depth chart two days after the Red-White Game in Razorback Stadium.
His first-team quarterback heading into the summer was no surprise.
It was the same one who began spring drills in the starting role.
Sophomore Brandon Allen was listed ahead of senior Brandon Mitchell on Arkansas’ post-spring depth chart Monday. It was the first depth chart Arkansas has released since Bielema’s arrival. While it wasn’t a concrete proclamation Allen will start the 2013 season opener, it was more proof he is the favorite for the role.
"Brandon Allen really from the first week until the game that you saw on Saturday made progress all the way along," Bielema said Monday. "But just really the last weeks have been exceptional. He’s just continued to make strides."
Allen wrapped up the spring by completing 11 of 16 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown with the first-team offense during the Red-White Game. He led the starting group on two scoring drives during his time on the field, including a 26-yard touchdown pass to receiver Demetrius Wilson.
It was a strong conclusion to what Allen felt was a shaky start to spring drills, which featured the introduction of a new offense under coordinator Jim Chaney.
"I think about midway through spring was really kind of a turning point for me," Allen said. "I think the first part of spring I wasn’t up to par with my own performance. I really didn’t feel great about it. Then the second half, I felt a lot better. I was working on getting in the film room a lot more and really taking it a lot more seriously. I think that really helped me the second half spring."
Allen played in five games last season, completing 21 of 49 passes for 186 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in relief of Tyler Wilson.
He started against Alabama and split time under center with Mitchell, who spent most of the season playing receiver after moving in preseason practices. It didn’t go well for either quarterback during Arkansas’ 52-0 loss.
But Allen said he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
"When you get early playing time, you’re going to mature a lot quicker than waiting for four years and then playing," Allen said. "So I think the only thing that could have done for me is help me."
Bielema pointed toward turnovers as one reason Allen has maintained the first-team spot all spring. Mitchell threw an interception during the spring game, but finished completing 12 of 17 passes for 138 yards with a touchdown and the pick.
"Brandon Mitchell does a lot of really good things as well," Bielema said. "One thing we can’t do is we can’t turn the football over. We can’t create negative plays on our own. I think Brandon Allen did a lot better job of that just overall and has progressed in a way that has put him in that position."
Bielema said after the spring game he planned to talk to Mitchell about his role with the team, hinting at the possibility of using him in a variety of ways next season.
He maintained that stance during Monday’s press conference, saying it’s important for any player to have his role defined. Players will meet one-on-one with position this week. Bielema said he planned to talk to players beginning Wednesday.
"As far as with Brandon Mitchell, obviously, I think at quarterback he’s got some special gifts that we definitely can use or make better," Bielema said. "If there’s another role, him at another position, it’ll be something that we kind of work through together."
Mitchell didn’t sound very open to the idea of returning to receiver, where he spent the 2012 season. Mitchell has success in catching 17 passes for 262 yards in eight games, but told Arkansas’ staff he wanted to return to quarterback this spring.
Mitchell said Monday was the first time he heard anything about playing other positions. He continued to stress his desire to remain under center exclusively.
"With the competition not being over at quarterback, I’m just focused on strictly quarterback," Mitchell said. "I don’t even want to consider anything else right now. My mind’s on quarterback."
Allen expects to be pushed by Mitchell throughout the summer, too.
He called being in the first-team spot at the end of spring practice an "honor," but stressed that the position wouldn’t alter the way he approached the summer as Arkansas continues to prepare for the 2013 season.
"I’m still going to be working my hardest. I know B-Mitch will be working his hardest," Allen said. "Pushing each other is going to keep getting both of us better."
Depth Chart Surprises
Mitchell Loewen missed most of the spring because of an ankle injury, but remained on top of the two-deep tight end depth chart Monday. Austin Tate was No. 2.
"He’s been a nice surprise, a walk-on from Hawaii," Bielema said. "I don’t even know how he got here, but it’s worked out very well for him. He’s a kid because of what we do offensively will continue to grow the package. I’ve been very impressed with Austin Tate. I think those two guys could be a formidable pair."
Redshirt freshman Jared Collins also held the top spot at cornerback ahead of returning starter Will Hines. Bielema said he was impressed by Collins’ play the past couple of weeks, but added Hines was slowed because of a groin injury this spring.
"He’s got to play smart," Bielema said. "He’s got to play aggressive. He’s got to play big. right now he doesn’t play big. he’s backing away from things and playing a little soft on certain looks. That’s not him. To his credit, I think he was a little bit banged up and didn’t want to say it. He had an issue in his groin and it just bothered him a little bit more than he was letting on. So I think the upside for him is great."
Lowe, Flynn Won’t Return
Bielema said safety Defonta Lowe and defensive end Austin Flynn won’t return to the Razorbacks this offseason. Neither player participated in practices this month.
"Defonta won’t be back with the team," Bielema said. "He’s still in school. He’s doing really well academically. He’s going to look into the options he wants to pursue here in the next couple of weeks, him and Austin both."