Hogs’ media days choices make sense
FAYETTEVILLE — On the surface, it seems Bret Bielema’s player representative choices to SEC media days underscore the contrasting public perceptions of the coach’s offense and defense.
Seniors Austin Allen and Frank Ragnow from the offense and senior Kevin Richardson from the defense are the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville players accompanying Bielema. Monday morning they lead off the league’s four-day media sessions in Hoover, Ala.
Allen arguably enters 2017 as the SEC’s best quarterback. Accounting for 27 touchdowns — 25 passing and 2 rushing — Allen led the SEC in passing yardage (3,430) for all games and led in SEC games (2,291).
Given that last season’s young offensive line has aged a year together — returning all but tackle Dan Skipper — they are expected to protect Allen better. Allen often absorbed more 2016 hits than a piñata, and much is expected in 2017 from the fifth-year senior quarterback from Fayetteville.
None of the 35 quarterback sacks Arkansas allowed in 2016 were attributed to Ragnow, the starting center and 2017 offensive co-captain with Allen.
Ragnow, with tight-end type quickness and athleticism in a 6-5, 319-pound interior lineman’s frame, enters 2017 as the favorite to win the Rimington Trophy awarded in December to college football’s outstanding center.
Just look at the preseason accolades: Lindy’s, Athlon and Sporting News 2017 preseason first-team All-American.
Contrast Richardson’s 2016. The homegrown fifth-year senior defensive back from Jacksonville tore pectoral muscles while making seven tackles during the season-opening victory over Louisiana Tech. He didn’t play again as the defense struggled.
Richardson returned in the spring, but he wasn’t technically listed as a starter in the new 3-4 base defense.
Yet anyone closely following Arkansas’ program can appreciate Bielema for bringing Richardson.
Richardson plays first-team nickel back, not included in the base 3-4 package but probably used more as Spread offenses proliferate. He also plays dime, can fill in at both safeties and has played on all the special teams.
Teammates voted the former walk-on Richardson a 2017 defensive co-captain with safety Santos Ramirez.
Paul Rhoads, now the defensive coordinator but last year was Arkansas’ first-year defensive backfield coach, realized Richardson’s value just from the 2016 spring practices. So Rhoads knew how much Richardson would be missed after he was injured.
“He is arguably the smartest player on the defense, if not smarter than half the coaches, too, in terms of what we are doing,” Rhoads said after two practices in August. “He is extremely intelligent. He is into his playbook and into the film and it shows on a daily basis.”
Not just a daily basis, but several positions per day, including being so special on special teams.
“Kevin is a very versatile player,” Rhoads said. “A guy that’s that marketable is very valuable to your football team.”