Austin Allen is unquestionably the Arkansas Razorbacks best quarterback, but the battle to be his backup has become too interesting for comfort as an outsider looking in.
Now, Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Dan Enos probably know exactly whose name they would call should Allen suffer an injury, but based on their comments, I’m not that sure.
Obviously, they could be holding their cards close to their vest and saying only enough in public to spark competition, but it was telling late last week when Bielema said that a player could do everything right and everything within his power but still be overtaken on the depth chart.
The comment was made in reference to sophomore signal caller Rafe Peavey, who closed spring practice as second team, but evidently failed to pick up where he left off in preseason drills. To be fair, Peavey suffered a back injury during the summer that required surgery. He may not be physically ready to compete at his best, or possibly redshirt freshman Ty Storey and true freshman Cole Kelley just advanced past him. It happens.
Either way Bielema held Peavey out of the Hogs’ final scrimmage last Saturday, and did not work him with the developmental players, calling it a results-based decision.
Bielema said he needed to see more of Storey and Kelley to better judge where they stand. Bielema did say the move did not rule out Peavey as the backup, but then again, if Peavey had secured the second-team spot, the long look at Kelley and Storey wouldn’t have been necessary.
While statistics never tell the whole story with a quarterback’s performance, Kelley’s raw numbers were better than Storey’s, considerably better.
Storey completed just 2 of 8 passes for 26 yards. He threw no touchdowns, nor interceptions. Reportedly several of his catchable passes were dropped, but the 6-2 Charleston native also had some ball handling issues during the rainy practice. There are questions whether Storey has the arm strength to make some of the more physically challenging throws against the speed of SEC defensive backs.
Kelley, on the other hand, completed 8 of 15 passes for 127 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The strapping 6-6, 260-pound freshman doesn’t lack confidence. Bielema has complimented him on his huddle presence and for his understanding of the offense after just a few short weeks of practice.
Kelley has the strongest arm on the team and has displayed touch, but sometimes his judgment is a bit off. He threw an interception in the first scrimmage, which Bielema referred to as Harry High School move, and his interception in the latest scrimmage was a matter of too much bravado.
Now, from those descriptions, it may seem that Bielema and Enos will begin grooming Kelley as the backup. And that may very well be the case, but the reality of the situation is that a play-caller can deal more efficiently and effectively with limited arm strength than he can limited judgment.
The arm strength can be mitigated by the play call, but judgment is much trickier variable to handle. A quarterback with a gunslinger mentality sometimes has to learn the hard way to pick and choose his shots. That’s not a bad thing, if it can be worked through in practice, but nothing can wreck a ballgame and subsequently a season more quickly than careless throws by a quarterback wanting to make something happen too quickly.
Arkansas’ backup quarterback could be a fluid situation this season, and it may depend on the situation.
In a perfect world, either Storey or Peavey would nail down the back-up role and then only be needed to mop-up games. Kelley could travel with the team and gain experience as a redshirt.
But in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s not a perfect world.
If Allen happens to suffer an injury during a ballgame, expect Bielema and Enos to call upon either Storey or Peavey to close it out. However, if an injury results in Allen being shelved for an extended period of time, then it might get interesting. Depending on how Kelley is progressing, a red-shirt could come off very easily.