Wilson heads talented group of Arkansas QBs

March 28, 2012

Garrick McGee had no shortage of praise for an Arkansas quarterback last season.

The former Razorbacks offensive coordinator, now the head coach at Alabama-Birmingham, had this to say about the signal caller:

''He's one of the best athletes in college football,'' McGee said. ''He has the potential to be a star before it's said and done.''

Think McGee was referring to Tyler Wilson, the Arkansas quarterback who earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors last season?


Think again.

McGee was speaking about Brandon Mitchell, Wilson's backup last season who saw limited action as a sophomore.

Both Wilson and Mitchell are back this spring for the Razorbacks. Their roles are more clearly defined now than when they battled to replace Ryan Mallett a year ago - with Wilson entrenched as the starter and Mitchell behind him.

What's less clear is Mitchell's role in what has become an abundance of talent at the quarterback position for Arkansas. Freshman Brandon Allen redshirted last season for the Razorbacks, but he passed Mitchell on the team's depth chart before spring practice.

The move was largely due to Mitchell's time with the Arkansas basketball team since the beginning of the year, but it highlighted the team's depth at quarterback.

It's a welcome problem to have for the Razorbacks, who have led the SEC in passing offense in each of the last three seasons under coach Bobby Petrino.

''You have good players, and they compete with each other and push each other to be their very best every day in practice,'' offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said. ''That's a great problem to have.''

Wilson threw for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns in his first season as Arkansas' starter last season following Mallett's departure to the NFL. He did so despite facing constant pressure behind an offensive line that struggled at times, leading the Razorbacks to an 11-2 season and a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State.

Wilson spent much of last spring and summer auditioning for the role as starting quarterback. This time around, he knows the job is his - providing a boost in confidence after he decided to bypass the NFL draft and return to Arkansas.

''I can go out there and play against me instead of playing against anybody else,'' Wilson said. ''People don't say that a lot, but I feel like I just compete against me and what I do every day, and I feel like I've been playing better because of it.''

With Wilson the incumbent, the Razorbacks will spend much of this spring readying Mitchell and Allen. Petrino said the team's fast-paced practices allow the three quarterbacks to take the same number of repetitions as if there were only two, but he wouldn't go as far as to say he trusted all three in game action at this point.

''I think they always can get better every day,'' Petrino said. ''We feel best about Tyler because he's had a bunch more game experience, but they're doing a good job. They've just got to continue to improve.''

Mitchell, who was 22 of 32 passing for 271 yards last season, was used primarily in goal-line situations last season and had a pair of touchdown runs. He continued his football workouts while with the basketball team, but his demotion on the depth chart reflects the confidence the Arkansas coaching staff has in Allen.

The move came as no surprise to Mitchell, who expected exactly this type of competition at quarterback when he signed with the Razorbacks.

''Every year, you always seem to have one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the country,'' Mitchell said. ''It's something we pride ourselves on, replacing the quarterback that just left. You saw it with Mallett, you saw it with Tyler and hopefully when he leaves, Brandon and me will be here, too.''

Bolstering Arkansas' passing game next season will be the return of running back Knile Davis, who has returned to practice this spring after suffering a season-ending ankle injury last August. Davis led all SEC running backs in rushing yardage two seasons ago, and he got an up-close look at Allen's potential while on spring break.

The two were part of a group of 25 Razorbacks who traveled to Panama City, Fla., during the break, with Allen the only one of the three quarterbacks who made the trip. That led to plenty of playing time for the freshman during the team's beach football games, and Davis came away impressed with what he saw.

''We've got three quarterbacks that are very good,'' Davis said. ''Any one of them could play. All of them have good arms, all of them can move the offense and read defenses.

''Right now the leader is Tyler Wilson after coming off a great year, but I expect great futures from those other guys.''