Bielema makes right move for Razorbacks in naming Allen starter this spring

Austin Allen /

Competition is one of the keys to getting better on the football field. Coaches love to see one player push another player, to see that hunger and, yes, even that greediness for playing time.

When one player doesn’t acquiesce to the other because of seniority or recruiting ratings or a depth chart, it’s a great situation for improvement. Playing time has always the best carrot to hold out in front of an athlete in a team sport.

Arkansas seems to be getting that type of aggressive precociousness from freshman defensive end McTelvin “Sosa” Agim. The 6-3, 288-pound Hope native was one of the Razorbacks’ highest-rated recruits last fall. He signed with the Hogs after completing high school a semester early in December, and even worked out with Arkansas in a few bowl practices.

To look at him in his uniform, you’d never know he is the equivalent of a graduating high school senior. Agim brought an SEC body with him to campus. Now, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t benefitted from working in Ben Herbert’s strength and conditioning program this spring and won’t benefit even more from it this summer, but he came to campus physically and mentally ready to compete for playing time.

Agim’s going to play next fall despite the fact Arkansas already had depth at defensive end. His presence allowed defensive coordinator Robb Smith and defensive line coach Rory Segrest to move senior Jeremiah Ledbetter inside to defensive tackle, and it also allowed Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema to move red-shirt freshman Jamario Bell over to offense to help out at tight end. Bell might move back to defense, but then again he might find a home there. Could he be the next Jason Peters?

Agim’s quick rise up the depth chart might motivate players he supplanted to work even harder this summer to put themselves in a better position to compete, and while guys like Deatrich Wise and JaMichael Winston have developed into self-motivators, having a push from behind by Agim isn’t bad for them either.

Agim’s providing the type of completion and depth that’s fruitful for the football team. So obviously, competition at defensive end has been good for the team and likely will continue to be into preseason camp.

However, artificial competition is something that can be detrimental or even destructive to a football team, and that could be one of the reasons why Bielema decided to announce what had already become obvious last Thursday when he named Austin Allen the Razorbacks’ starting quarterback.

Some thought it odd that Bielema didn’t carry the competition over into fall, but when someone has earned a starting spot, why deny him of it?

How detrimental was it in 1995 when former Arkansas coach Danny Ford insisted on starting a talented but immature Robert Reed over senior, three-year starter Barry Lunney Jr. because Lunney had played baseball the previous spring?

I’d argue it cost the Razorbacks the season opener at SMU that season. I’ll take a nine-win season over an eight-win season every time.

How destructive were the mind games former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt played with Mitch Mustain and Casey Dick in 2006?

We don’t know for sure if that pettiness played a role in the regular-season loss to LSU, the SEC Championship Game loss to Florida, or the Capital One Bowl loss ironically to Bielema’s first Wisconsin team, but it couldn’t have been constructive.

It absolutely ended up being destructive directly following the season. It proved to be the catalyst for the end of Frank Broyles’ tenure as athletic director. Folks can argue over whether it was time for Broyles to exit or not, but I think we can agree, it should have ended more smoothly.

Going into the spring, Bielema had said Allen was No. 1 in the quarterback pecking order, and everything Allen did during the first three weeks of spring football validated that assessment.

Obviously Bielema and Razorback offensive coordinator Dan Enos have grown to trust the Fayetteville native who begins his fourth year in the program this summer. They trust his work ethic and the leadership he has shown thus far. They know him, and they know he’s not going to use the announcement as an excuse to slack off.

If anything naming Allen the starter gives him the stamp of approval to take even more ownership of the offense and the locker room. By doing that this summer, he’ll gain even more respect from his teammates, and they’ll be even more willing to follow his lead next fall.

With the loss of six key starters from last season’s offense, the Razorbacks are going to need all the leadership they can get this season, and leadership from the quarterback is among the best kind.

Giving Allen the starting nod going into the summer is a smart move, but it’s not just a motivational ploy. From all accounts, Allen has earned it from his play in practice, his work in meetings and the off-season program, his study on his own time, and through his actions off the field.

The most deflating action that can be done to a competitor is to deny him what he has earned. Bielema and Enos recognize this, and they acted accordingly in naming Allen the starter. It was the right move for their quarterback and more importantly it was the right move for the team.