Optimistic Razorbacks set to end spring with Red-White game
There was the motorcycle accident that led to coaching chaos and then long, miserable attempts to rebound from the school's worst losing stretch since entering the Southeastern Conference.
The quarterback has added yet another new experience to his time with the Razorbacks: A sense of optimism in Fayetteville. It's a welcome calm following the storm that was former coach Bobby Petrino and the losing that followed his firing in 2012.
Without any of the drama this spring, the Razorbacks have quietly gone about keeping their momentum following last season's 7-6 record. It was Arkansas' first winning season in three years, capped by a dominant victory over Texas in the Texas Bowl.
With Allen returning for his third season as starter and few lingering questions, a newfound confidence has the Razorbacks excited about the future entering Saturday's end-of-spring Red-White game.
''We're all just really tight knit inside our own little place here,'' Allen said. ''It's been calm, it's been a lot of fun and it's one of those things where we're able just to focus on football.''
Allen is far from the only returning player for the Razorbacks, who ended a school-worst 17-game SEC losing streak last season with back-to-back shutouts over LSU and Mississippi.
Also providing third-year coach Bret Bielema a boost is running back Jonathan Williams, who decided to pass up on the NFL after rushing for 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
Much like Allen, Williams feels he's paid his dues during Arkansas' struggles. He's also ready to complete the Razorbacks transition from SEC doormat to contender, something he said has started with the overall comfort level this spring.
''Just the feeling of everything, everybody is just comfortable,'' Williams said. ''Not just because of the coaching staff, but because of the confidence that we have in ourselves.''
Some things to watch as Arkansas ends its third spring under Bielema:
RESTING BACKFIELD: Williams and Alex Collins formed the only running back duo in the country to each rush for more than 1,000 yards last season, but don't expect to see the pair much - if at all - during the Red-White game. Collins has been resting a sprained ankle the last week, while Williams has largely been held out of scrimmages this spring in a precautionary move for the senior.
''It's pretty frustrating because I'm a competitor, but I understand the logic behind it and that it will help me out in the future,'' Williams said.
ELLIS' LEAD: The Razorbacks improved from 76th in total defense in 2013 to 10th last season nationally, a key reason they reached a bowl game for the first time in three seasons. Sustaining that success next season will have to come without graduated linebacker Martrell Spaight, who led Arkansas with 128 tackles last season. Junior Brooks Ellis moved from middle linebacker to Spaight's former weakside role this spring, and he's reveled in more of a react-first approach.
EMERGING SPRINKLE: Arkansas returns one of the top tight ends in the SEC in Hunter Henry, who had 37 catches for 513 yards last season. The junior has had plenty of help at the position this spring, with junior Jeremy Sprinkle showing big-play ability and earning praise from Bielema. The 6-foot-6 Sprinkle provides Allen a reliable target opposite of the 6-foot-5 Henry.
NEW-LOOK OFFENSE: Former Central Michigan coach Dan Enos took over as offensive coordinator this spring, and Williams and other members of the offense have praised his outgoing personality. Fans, however, will be eager to see how much of Enos' balanced approach the Razorbacks will show on Saturday.
GREAT WALL OF SKIPPER: Dan Skipper was one of Arkansas' most dominant offensive linemen while playing left tackle the last two seasons. However, the 6-foot-10 junior struggled at times during the second half of last season, particularly with his over-aggressive nature that led to ill-timed penalties. Skipper was moved to right tackle this spring, a move many expect to solidify what is expected to be a dominant line, and Saturday will provide his first public test for many fans.