FAYETTEVILLE — Sophomore Brandon Allen won’t be under center for his first game as Arkansas’ full-time starter until Aug. 31.
But Arkansas center Travis Swanson told an assembled crowd at Southeastern Conference Media Days the inexperienced player already is showing some resemblance to former Razorbacks Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson.
“I’ve been able to snap to great quarterbacks,” Swanson, a senior, said in the main ballroom last Wednesday. “He is starting to get those attributes that you want, that I’ve seen in those guys before that are real comforting to the entire offense.”
The new-look Razorbacks will begin preparation for the 2013 season in two weeks and all eyes will be on its first-team quarterback. Allen emerged from the spring as the winner in the battle with senior Brandon Mitchell for the starting job. His position was secured even more a few weeks later, when Mitchell transferred.
Allen has spent the summer working as the team’s unofficial leader in offseason practices and seven-on-seven passing drills run by players. And, by all accounts, the Fayetteville native is doing just fine in the role with the Hogs.
“I can’t watch them in the summer, but I know the reports,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said last week. “When I talk to guys like Travis and (fullback Kiero Small) on the flight over (to SEC Media Days), they talked about his maturity.
“I know this: his last two weeks of spring ball were off the charts. Every day you literally saw him do something the day before that he hadn’t done.”
Allen’s continued growth will be vital for Arkansas as it prepares for its first season under Bielema. While no one expects the Razorbacks to throw the ball 50 times a game with a run-oriented approach, quarterback play remains key to success.
Allen is stepping into the starting job in a conference swelling with talent and experience at the position. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is back at Texas A&M. So, too, are veterans A.J. McCarron (Alabama) and Aaron Murray (Georgia).
But that’s just the beginning. Florida (Jeff Driskel), Missouri (James Franklin), South Carolina (Connor Shaw), LSU (Zach Mettenberger), Mississippi State (Tyler Russell) and Ole Miss (Bo Wallace) also have starting quarterbacks returning next season.
So it’s no surprise very few are thinking much of the newcomer — who completed 21 of 49 passes for 186 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in five appearances with one start last season — this summer.
Small insisted last week it’s a mistake.
“He came up under Tyler,” Small said. “Everybody knows how hard Tyler works and how bad he wants to win. So I think he learned a lot from him. … People are saying he’s a liability. I’ve seen that a few times. But we don’t focus on that. Guys can write whatever they want to write, Brandon goes in to work every day.”
The effort was evident last spring when Allen’s growth was on display.
He started the spring with the first-team offense and never relinquished the role.
Allen made it through the first half of the 15 practices like the rest of the Razorbacks, struggling at times in a new system. But there was a big jump down the stretch with Allen impressing coaches and teammates with his growing confidence.
He finished the spring by completing 11 of 16 passes for 158 yards with a touchdown in the spring game.
“He’s much more confident than he was last year,” Swanson said about Allen’s growth. “He walks up to the huddle to address and call the play and he’s got this boom in his voice now that he didn’t have a year ago.”
Small said he noticed it as well and it has carried into the summer.
“Not saying he wasn’t confident, but by the end of the spring you could see that he had more command,” Small said. “If a guy didn’t know something Brandon could tell them like that. If we needed a check, Brandon could get to it like that.”
The quarterback still has plenty to prove when preseason practice begins, of course.
But Bielema and the Razorbacks are confident in their new starting quarterback.
“I’m excited because the potential tag is hanging big-time on him,” Bielema said at SEC Media Days. “He’s a sophomore and if he’s as good as I think he is, if we can coach up and make the players around him kind of help him get his feet wet here early, I think we’re on the verge of something good.”