Teams must earn respect in the Southeastern Conference, and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema made it evident in his address to the media Wednesday.
He chose offense over defense this year, in bringing quarterback Brandon Allen, running back Jonathan Williams and wide receiver Keon Hatcher to SEC Media Days.
Bielema enters his third season with the Razorbacks, after finishing 7-6 last year.
Arkansas hired Dan Enos as its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on Jan. 22, 2015. Enos spent five seasons (2010-14) at Central Michigan as head coach, guiding the program to two bowl seasons. The Chippewas finished 7-6 in 2012 and 2014.
Bielema said the quarterbacks have warmed up to Enos.
“I think first and foremost, the thing that came out of our quarterbacks’ mouths as I sat down and interviewed them as they had time to work with Dan, is they liked a guy that had played the position,” Bielema said.
“Dan was a champion quarterback that really made a name for himself at that position. Then he became a great assistant coach, coordinator and head coach because he placed value on the quarterback position.”
Senior quarterback Brandon Allen started to put things together last season. He accounted for 2,285 passing yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions, despite a shoulder injury.
Coach Bielema said Allen has a chance to have an outstanding year, and could possibly be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC this season. Allen did improve his completion percentage (56 percent) and his touchdown to interception ratio last season.
Running backs and offensive linemen are recruited well at Fayetteville, Ark.
The Razorbacks return two 1,000-yard rushers in senior Jonathan Williams and junior Alex Collins. Williams tallied 1,190 yards with 12 touchdowns on 5.6 yards per carry in 2014.
Bielema, unlike most coaches, loves to think outside the box. He used the SEC media guides to shed more light on Arkansas offensive line, as five players appeared on the cover.
“Well, selfishly, it’s because it’s the only group that I feel good about taking a picture with,” Bielema said. “That’s why they got vaulted into one spot. I think the number one reason is I believe in a foundation. You’ve got five offensive linemen every year that can become starters. It’s easy to build depth there, and it’s easy to build a tradition, and it’s easy to build value.”
Arkansas returns junior wide receiver Keon Hatcher, who led the program in receiving yards (558) and touchdowns (6) last season. Junior tight end Hunter Henry had 513 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 37 catches. Both guys will be safety valves for Brandon Allen.
Defensively, Bielema wants to see more leadership. Arkansas lost three talented players to the National Football League in Trey Flowers, Darius Philon and Martell Spaight.
Junior defensive tackle Taiwan Johnson has to emerge in 2015. He collected 26 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 13 games last season.
Bielema said Johnson is a competitor.
“Taiwan has been one of those guys from weighing 230, 232 pounds, to now he’s a 289-pound D-tackle that looks like he’s supposed to look,” Bielema said. “Now the biggest thing that’s going to help Taiwan is the depth we have around him. By far the biggest improvement on our roster is depth at defensive line. That’s probably going to be reason we have success.”
Four of Arkansas’ six losses last season came in close games. Missed opportunities on offense and defense was the result of 7-6 record. Its two SEC wins over LSU and Ole Miss created much buzz within the conference. A 31-7 win over Texas in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl gave the Razorbacks a lot of confidence to end the season.
Balance will be important in 2015.