Hogs’ me­dia days choices make sense

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - THE SECOND PAGE -

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.”


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