The Brandon Allen Watch was the main topic at Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema's press conference on Thursday afternoon.
Brandon Allen practiced on a limited basis on Thursday and could start on Saturday against Rutgers.
Allen was injured in the first quarter of this past Saturday's 24-3 win over Southern Miss at Razorback Stadium. Allen has a bruised right shoulder and Bielema still isn't sure if he will have his quarterback this week.
“Brandon Allen did take some snaps today,” Bielema said. “He felt comfortable. A couple under center as well as shot gun. Didn't let him throw the football, but he keeps making progress we'll see where he's at on Saturday.
While the health report on Allen is questionable though improving, Bielema and the Razorbacks got a lot of good news elsewhere.
“We're healthier than we have been all year,” Bielema said. “Keon Hatcher is back with us 100-percent. He will be heavily involved with us in our game plan.
“Austin Tate same thing. He will be in all different kinds of personnel groupings which helps us. We have probably been tapping into Mitchell Loewen and Hunter Henry. That improves our tight end position. Especially in the fourth quarter of games. I'm excited about him to get back in there.
“On defense, Otha Peters is back a 100-percent as well as Trey Flowers. He got limited reps last week, but obviously did very well in the game. We have Rohan Gaines back as well. A lot of our defensive personnel is intact. Jared Collins practiced a little bit yesterday and all of today. It's good to see him back out there yesterday after his injury on Saturday.”
Bielema said the Razorbacks will travel 72 this week.
Bret Bielema is pleased to have sophomore WR Keon Hatcher back from an injury.
“Out of conference you can take up to 80,” Bielema said. “We haven't done that in the first three games. We took 70 so we're taking a couple of extras because we're more healthy and we'll go from there.”
While the Razorbacks are undefeated after three games, Rutgers (2-1) comes in winning its last two games. Bielema said the players have worked hard this week.
“I think our kids have really bought into it this week,” Bielema said of the game plan. “The two offenses are very similar so I think there's some carryover there that is very, very good.
“Defenses are both 4-3 personnel. We have some similar schemes defensively. It's going to be a really fun game. I think it comes down to who executes and who performs well in the red zone. Offense, defense and special teams and who is able to capitalize on other people's miscues.”
Arkansas ran a conservative offense with Derby at quarterback the final three quarters last week. Bielema said if Derby is the quarterback this week he will be more prepared due to practice.
“I would say he handled the majority of the work,” Bielema said. “A little bit more even reps than if it was just a normal week. We wanted to get Austin going a little bit as well in case BA doesn't play.
“I thought [Derby] handled it very well. Threw the ball around extremely well today. On Thursday, we have a scripted practice, kind of like a game, and he got more in rhythm there. I think from the time he first entered the game on Saturday to where he is today it has been a very good blessing to have all this time to prepare him.”
With Brandon Allen scheduled to start if he is able to go, Bielema was asked what criteria he would use to determine if Brandon can play.
Senior TE Austin Tate will play for the first time this season in Saturday's game.
“A, doctor's clearance first and foremost,” Bielema said. “We won't put him out on the field unless they feel he can protect himself in a normal game situation. And then obviously he has got to feel good enough himself to go in there.
“The thing that has been fun all week is he has gotten significantly better each day. There's nobody who is more engaged and wants to play more than him.”
Bielema said while Allen will be a game-time decision, it shouldn't come down to the last minute.
“Early in the day I would hope you get a little bit of an understanding because it is later in the day,” Bielema said. “We might let him throw some in the hotel and then get to the stadium and see where he is at.
“When you see your starting quarterback come out in the third quarter in a sling to where he got rid of the sling on Tuesday or Wednesday to see him bopping around out there now taking snaps it makes you feel good. At the same time, you have to understand where he's at and hasn't gotten a 100-percent assurance from the doctors that we can put him in there.”
Tate will play for the first time this year after undergoing shoulder surgery prior to the season.
“I think Austin brings a little bit of calmness to that group,” Bielema said. “He has just blown me away ever since I came here to where we are today. His composure, his intelligence, his work ethic and the kids like him. He's engaged in the game plan.
“On the flip side of it, Hunter took a pretty good shot on his leg in the Little Rock game. He wasn't really feeling back to himself until here recently, maybe Tuesday's practice. (Jeremy) Sprinkle had a good week of practice. (Alex) Voelzke and then Loewen will become an even better player with fewer reps. We're maximizing him. He came here as a walk-on and then we're throwing him there 60 snaps like he should be an All-SEC player. I think we're going to cut his reps down to maybe that 30 range. He will be much more effective, Austin will be more effective, Hunter will be more effective and in addition to being more healthy.”
Bielema also said it will be nice to get Hatcher back to help Javontee Herndon and the others. Bielema noted that Arkansas has been without possibly its top two receivers in Hatcher and D'Arthur Cowan.