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Arkansas spring game: What we learned

4/25/2015

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- On a sunny, clear, perfect day for football, Arkansas closed out spring drills with its annual Red-White spring game, a 62-18 Red victory on Saturday at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Here are a few things we learned from the action:

1. There were mascots running plays: If you're scratching your head at this one, know it's for a good reason. Remember the Sebastian Tretola touchdown pass in Arkansas' win over UAB last year? On Saturday, a revised version of the play -- complete with several mascots and SEC Network reporter Laura Rutledge -- was unveiled during a two-point conversion try in the second quarter. It was a play called by a special guest: 14-year-old Dallas Walker, a Razorback fan from nearby Farmington who has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, or CMT, but dreams of being a football coach. Dallas was a special guest of Bret Bielema's to practice on Thursday and at the spring game on Saturday. On Thursday, Bielema and Dallas discussed the play and ran it in practice three times (it failed all three with a mascot dropping the pass twice and Tretola overthrowing it once) so Bielema decided to tweak it and add Rutledge to the mix. Tretola and Rutledge couldn't quite connect, but it was still a memorable experience for Dallas, his family and friends, who were all present at the game on Saturday.

2. The Razorbacks have even more running back depth: Arkansas boasted two 1,000-yard rushers last season, the only team in the country to accomplish that feat in 2014, but Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams were both held out of the spring game on Saturday. That gave an opportunity to senior running back/fullback Kody Walker. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Walker took advantage, exploding for 174 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. He showed some solid agility for his size and looks like a player who could potentially be a quality third option behind the Hogs' dynamic duo.

3. Brandon Allen's accuracy is improving: The senior quarterback was efficient and accurate on Saturday, completing 17 of 21 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions in two quarters of action. Of his four incompletions, three hit receivers in the hands (two were dropped and the receiver was ruled out of bounds on the other). Teammates and coaches have noted that Allen's confidence has been rising throughout Arkansas' spring practice and that seems clear. A 65-yard touchdown pass to Keon Hatcher hit Hatcher perfectly in stride. While it should be noted Allen's performance was against the second-team defense, Allen struggled in last year's Red-White game, going 12-for-21 for 108 yards, one touchdown and one interception against the second-team defense. If Saturday is at least a small glimpse of things to come, Allen should be able to improve on his 56-percent completion rate from last season and that bodes well for the Hogs' offense.

4. The Hogs have talent on the defensive line: Sure, Arkansas lost a couple of good players up front (Trey Flowers and Darius Philon) but there is still talent in the front four and depth, too. JaMichael Winston shined the brightest on Saturday, recording three sacks which is reason to believe there will be a good pass rush for the Razorbacks coming off the edge this fall. He's big (6-4, 272) and fast and defensive coordinator Robb Smith feels like he has the potential to be a leader. Taiwan Johnson looks poised for a strong season from his defensive tackle spot and Smith is excited about several others, including Tevin Beanum, Bijhon Jackson and Jeremiah Ledbetter.

5. Kicking game is a question mark: The Razorbacks had two placekickers working on Saturday -- Adam McFain and Lane Saling -- and the pair went a combined 11-for-16. McFain was 5-for-8 and missed field goals from 32, 38 and 52 yards while Saling missed from 27 and 37 yards while going 5-for-7. Redshirt freshman Cole Hedlund, who is injured and didn't kick Saturday, will also likely be in the mix this fall, but duties will likely be won in training camp.

6. Tight ends will be heavily involved: This position already has a prominent role in the Arkansas offense but it might grow even more prominent under new offensive coordinator Dan Enos. The two leading pass-catchers for Red were tight ends (Jeremy Sprinkle and Hunter Henry) who each had four receptions. Henry seems poised for a big season and Sprinkle is looking to step into the role AJ Derby played in last year and contribute plenty. Tight end Alex Voelzke led the White with two receptions.