Brandon Allen / Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com
It might be a cliché, but there is a lot of truth in the thought that football is the ultimate team sport.
Obviously the statement can be argued. When played well, at their highest form, basketball, baseball, soccer and volleyball are all functions of teamwork, too. I would never deny that.
However, in each of those sports, the action of a single player can win a game. A single hitter can win a baseball game with one swing or catch. A lone free-throw shooter can sink the winning points from the line without the help of his teammates. Penalty kicks win soccer matches, and a return kill can end a volleyball match.
It football, the game never, ever comes down to one player. On every play, the ball is in the hands of at least two players, and on every offensive play, the man with the ball is reliant on his blockers. Some say a cornerback is on an island when he’s in man coverage with no help from a safety, but even in that situation, the pass rush by his teammates usually has a bearing on whether he gets beat or not.
So even though, it is a bit simplistic to single out a player for distinction, as fans we can’t help it. Most of us like simplicity, and more importantly we like to be able to identify with a player. It puts a face on the game and provides us an avenue for connection.
With that in mind, I offer up four Razorbacks whose play stood out this season, fully realizing that the designation of most valuable player is not only arguable but also highly subjective.
OFFENSIVE MVP: BRANDON ALLEN
Allen’s statistics this year alone make him a solid candidate for MVP. He completed 224 of 344 with seven interceptions, which gave him a 65.1 percent completion percentage, for 3,125 yards and 29 touchdowns. Allen has thrown more TD passes than any Razorbacks in history in a ground-oriented offense. His quarterback efficiency rating was an impressive 165.17. Allen, a 6-2, 210-pound senior from Fayetteville, became the Razorbacks all-time leader in touchdown throws and set an Arkansas record and tied an SEC record with seven TD passes in a game against Mississippi State.
However what stood out about Allen is how he kept pushing through what seemed like a career of adversity to help turn the Razorbacks’ season around after a 1-3 start. In three consecutive losses to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M, Allen, despite amassing solid stats, missed on late-game throws in each contest that could have helped the Razorbacks chances of winning. A person of lesser character might have been crushed after such results, but Allen never gave up on himself or his teammates, and along with them carved out a second half to the season that won’t be forgotten by Razorbacks fans for a long while.
Brooks Ellis / Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com
DEFENSIVE MVP: BROOKS ELLIS
Ellis, a 6-2, 242-pound junior from Fayetteville, was slated for a standout role for the Razorbacks last spring when his coaches moved him from middle linebacker to the weak-side linebacker spot. The idea in defensive coordinator Robb Smith’s scheme is to funnel plays to the weak-side with the team’s alignment to set up the squad’s best linebacker to make plays. However, that concept only works if the unit is solid at middle linebacker.
When no Razorback proved capable of filling the middle linebacker spot, Ellis moved back from the weakside spot to fill the hole from the third game forward. From his middle linebacker spot, Ellis called the defensive alignments and led the Razorbacks and was sixth in the Southeastern Conference in tackles with 101 stops, 44 of them unassisted. He made seven tackles for 15 yards in losses, had five quarterback hurries, broke up three passes, made one interception and recovered a fumble.
At times he struggled in pass coverage, but injuries sapped Arkansas depth at linebacker, leaving Ellis in a position where he was forced to play nearly every meaningful defensive down through the last half of the season. Ellis will only be a better performer as the Razorbacks increase their depth.
Dominique Reed / Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com
MOST VALUABAL OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER: DOMINIQUE REED
It is not a coincidence that the Razorbacks’ season turned for the better the more and more Reed matured as a player. Reed, a 6-3, 180-pound wide receiver from Camden, transferred from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College in the summer. There was no doubt his 4.4 speed would be an asset to the Razorbacks, but the question was when.
Reed saw early playing time, but it took the first month of the season for him to become comfortable in the Razorbacks’ offense. When he became acclimated, his speed brought another dimension to the Hogs’ offense, a vertical one. Reed stretched the field over the last half of the season and finished with 27 catches for 520 yards and 6 touchdowns. His average of 19.3 yards per catch led the team and was third in the SEC. As a deep threat, Reed opened up the field not only for the Hogs’ running game but also for easier throws to Arkansas tight ends Hunter Henry, a consensus All-American and Jeremy Sprinkle.
Reed, no doubt, will be a big asset to whomever earns the Razorbacks’ starting quarterback job next fall.
MOST VALUABAL DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER: DRE GREENLAW
Dre Greenlaw / Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Greenlaw, a 6-2, 222-pound freshman from Fayetteville, earned the nickname Big Play Dre while roaming the secondary for Fayetteville High. He truly was a player who stood out in every game he played whether it was returning kickoffs, punts, fumbles or interceptions for touchdowns or by shocking receivers and running backs with high-voltage hits. He did all of that playing safety.
After a summer of work with the Razorbacks, Greenlaw outgrew the safety spot and moved to linebacker in August. While Arkansas’ coaching staff knew Greenlaw had the potential to be a solid SEC linebacker, they didn’t dream that process would take just three games. In an ideal situation, Greenlaw would have redshirted this season, but he caught his coaches’ eyes from the first day in training camp. His quick development allowed him to step into the starting weak-side linebacker role, when it was deemed best for the team to move Ellis back to middle linebacker. In fact, it was Greenlaw’s precocious play that afforded Arkansas the opportunity to move Ellis inside.
Certainly, Greenlaw had some growing pains this season, but he is a natural football player and has a bright future at Arkansas. Greenlaw was the Razorbacks second-leading tackler with 93 stops, with 44 unassisted. He tied for 10th in tackles in the SEC. Greenlaw made 3.5 tackles for 20 yards in losses, including a sack. He forced two fumbles, broke up a pass and had a quarterback hurry.
His body of work not only garnered him a spot on the All-SEC Freshman team, but also Freshman All-American honors.