Much like last Saturday, the Hogs opened with a lot of situational down-and-distance work. Red zone and goal line drives followed, with Bielema letting the offenses take some stabs at moving the ball during the second half of the scrimmage.
The storylines of note really revolved around personnel shuffles at quarterback, linebacker and in the offensive line. A couple of observations from the RBN crew that was in attendance:
We were pleasantly surprised with how A.J. Derby looked at his new position – tight end. Derby caught several passes, and showed good instincts running after the catch. Despite dropping a long, would-be touchdown pass from Brandon Allen, Derby seems to have taken a liking to the switch, and could be in the TE rotation on a situational basis.
Post practice, Bielema described the move of Damon ‘Duwop’ Mitchell from quarterback to wide receiver as a ‘trial’. Mitchell looked good despite the limited practice time there and showed to be elusive in space when he had the ball. Mitchell also took several snaps at tailback and was deep to field some punts.
With Mitchell and Derby at their new spots, Austin Allen and Rafe Peavy split second team reps Saturday. Neither had great showings, prompting Bielema to say post practice that “Brandon Allen has separated himself. There’s no one in our program that can challenge him.” Peavy appears neck-and-neck with Austin Allen at this stage.
With two weeks to go, offensive line coach Sam Pittman appears to still be looking for a center and one guard. We thought last week that senior Luke Charpentier might have trouble holding on to his starting center position. Junior Mitch Smothers got much of the work at center with the first team, while Charpentier was with the second team. Junior Grady Ollison got most of the work at first team left guard.
With the shuffling at center, several quarterback-center exchange and snap count issues arose. The miscues made for a sloppy first half of the scrimmage.
Wide receivers were on the move Saturday as well – some up and some down. Keon Hatcher drew the ire of Bielema and the coaches after fumbling on the first series of the day. Hatcher was sent to the sideline and proceded to ‘take a lap’ around the field with a ball in hand as a reminder.
On the flip side, junior D’Arthur Cowan and true freshman Jared Cornelius continued to impress at wide receiver. Cowan, who had been sidelined for much of the spring tending to academics, looked explosive on several tunnel screen passes from Brandon Allen. The Hogs need his play-making skills desperately. Cornelius made the best catch of the day – a one handed, touchdown grab on the goal line from Brandon Allen.
On the defensive side of the ball, former safety Tiquention ‘TQ’ Coleman looked comfortable at his new outside linebacker spot. TQ has always been known as a ‘big hitter’ so moving him closer to the line of scrimmage seems like a good move. Coleman made a nice, sideline interception of a Rafe Peavy pass late in the day.
Three interceptions by new defensive coordinator Robb Smith’s unit was a welcome sight. The Hogs ranked 108th nationally in takeaways a year ago. Carroll Washington made a nice play to undercut and pick off a Brandon Allen pass. Linebackers Coleman and Brooks Ellis also intercepted passes; Ellis’ off a deflection by defensive end Deatrich Wise, Jr.
All in all, it was another good, spirited scrimmage, as Bielema and his staff continue to try to fit all the pieces together.