Bret Bielema looking for starting QB at Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Bret Bielema knew the quarterback questions were coming before he sat down Friday for his first news conference since the beginning of spring practice.
The new Arkansas coach wasted little time in acknowledging the significance of finding a replacement for the graduated Tyler Wilson, addressing the void during his opening comments.
"I think there's no doubt that on offense, the key is who is going to be our trigger puller," Bielema said.
The Razorbacks wrapped up their first week of practices under their new coach Thursday and are now on spring break until resuming on March 26. The school's spring game is scheduled for April 20th, the final of 15 allotted practices that are Bielema's first opportunity to see Arkansas in action since being hired away from Wisconsin in December.
Bielema has three practices behind him so far, and one of his first priorities has been establishing who will follow in the footsteps of Wilson - who was second in the Southeastern Conference with an average of 307.9 yards passing per game last season.
Senior Brandon Mitchell and sophomore Brandon Allen both saw limited action at quarterback last season, and Bielema said "both have shown that they've kind of been a little bit ahead of the curve" compared to the others.
Bielema doesn't expect to name a starter during the spring, but he did say he's "never been a quarterback-by-committee guy." That means that only one from the pool of signal callers is likely to earn the bulk of the playing time next season as the Razorbacks attempt to rebound from a disappointing 4-8 record last season.
"Hopefully, over the course of 15 (practices), we'll get an indicator," Bielema said. "But a quarterback needs to be triumphant in the most difficult times. If you want a championship-level team, he's got to be at his best when everybody else is at their worst."
Mitchell has the most experience of the contenders for the starting job, having already been through four seasons. The Louisiana native has seen action in three seasons, but the majority of his time last season came at wide receiver - leaving Allen as the primary backup.
Mitchell's best season at quarterback came in 2011 while serving as Wilson's backup. He completed 22 of 32 passes for 271 yards that season, but he was just 2 of 8 last year - including a 1-of-7 performance in split duty against national champion Alabama. The 6-foot-4, 239-pound senior was also suspended for four games late last season for a violation of team rules.
Allen's emergence during preseason camp last year was one of the primary reasons Arkansas felt it could move Mitchell to receiver. The sophomore, who played in high school in Fayetteville, stood out in scrimmages but struggled while replacing an injured Wilson in a shocking overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Allen was 6-of-20 passing for 85 yards in that loss, and he was 10 of 18 for 60 yards a week later in the 52-0 drubbing at the hands of the Crimson Tide.
Bielema said he hasn't looked at much of Arkansas' film from last season, preferring to make his own evaluations of players, including the quarterbacks. That could be a good thing for both Mitchell and Allen.
"If there is one thing that I would get across to our quarterbacks in general, it is that I need to have an urgency out of them to become great," Bielema said. "If the quarterback position is not a junkie, if he's not a guy is begging on your door every day to be learning, we are not going to get where we need to be.
"At that particular position in general, we need a whole lot of urgency."
Bielema said he doesn't expect to install all of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney's offense in the spring. He prefers to take a "slow it down and make it great" approach.
"I used that philosophy in finding a wife," he joked.