Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen didn’t participate in Thursday’s practice and isn’t likely to play against 10th-ranked Texas A&M on Saturday.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said the Razorbacks gave Allen the day off after he practiced on a limited basis Tuesday and Wednesday. He did not throw a pass in practice for the second consecutive week after suffering a shoulder injury in the first quarter of Arkansas’ win against Southern Miss on Sept. 14.
“They said it was going to be a 3-4 week deal and to think he was going to come back in two probably is a bit unrealistic,” said Bielema, who has not revealed the exact extent of Allen’s injury other than saying it was a bruised shoulder. “But I know he wants to be out there, and the fact of the matter is whether or not he can do all the things we’re going to ask a quarterback to do, which obviously involves throwing the football and being productive in the passing game.”
Bielema still hasn’t ruled Allen out of Saturday’s game, however, keeping the possibility open that the quarterback could recover enough to be back in the starting lineup. But all signs point toward backup AJ Derby earning his second straight start as the Razorbacks opener Southeastern Conference play.
Derby completed 14 of 26 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown at Rutgers. The junior has completed 18 of 32 passes for 388 yards and a touchdown in seven quarters in relief of Allen the past two games.
“I think he’s had a lot better week of preparation as far as getting a handle, not just the game plan but also all the dynamics,” Bielema said about Derby. “Where to go with the ball. Where to check to with certain looks.”
Bielema said Allen has practiced with a light-weight football to work on his throwing motion, but those passes have been to trainer Matt Summers. He added that Allen continues to progress in his rehabilitation and would not hesitate to play him Saturday if he received late assurance that the quarterback was healthy.
“The thing that we have to do as coaches and ... is trust in him,” Bielema said. “And I know he wanted to go last week, but he knew he couldn’t physically do what we were going to ask him to do. This week, if he can demonstrate that and show it to us, we’d absolutely start him.”
But Bielema also emphasized he would not put Allen “in harm’s way” and sounded more confident the quarterback would be back in time for Arkansas’ next game at Florida on Oct. 5 than Saturday’s game against the Aggies.
“I would say he’s back,” Bielema said. “Judging by where he was last week to where he is (Thursday) and where he would be next week, I think so. Obviously, the only concern that I really have is that I think he’s going to tell you that he can go a lot earlier than probably the doctors say he can go. But they are just worried if there’s anything that could become problematic if he took a hit or anything along that line.”
Gaines Will Start
Bielema said safety Rohan Gaines will be back in the starting lineup after being slowed by a knee injury the past three weeks. Gaines played a handful of snaps in a reserve role at Rutgers, but is back to 100 percent.
“Really feel excited to get him back in the lineup,” Bielema said. “He’s been moving around extremely well, going back to last Saturday to where we are (Thursday).”
Alan Turner started three straight games in Gaines’ place. The junior may still be in the lineup Saturday, though, if Arkansas opens the game in its nickel defense. Gaines, Turner and senior Eric Bennett would all be on the field in the formation.
“AT’s been a nice blessing,” Bielema said. “He really did a nice job.”
Bielema also said linebacker Otha Peters is expected to receive more playing time after being on the field for much of the second half last Saturday. Although it may not come in a starting role, yet, according to Bielema.
“He may not start, but I think he’ll play a lot more than he did last week,” Bielema said. “He was another guy last week, he was just beginning to get into the swing of things, to be cleared to be back out there and did a really good job.”
Bielema wanted to make something clear after Thursday’s practice: He’s not afraid to remove quarterback Austin Allen’s redshirt if it’s necessary.
“I love to play the guy that gives us the best chance to win, which is what our decision was last week, which is what our decision is this week,” Bielema said about Allen, who is the No. 2 quarterback with Brandon Allen out. “Whoever we feel can help us win a football game we’ll do that and Austin understands that.”
Bielema said he met with Allen and his parents before the season began and told him the plan was to “possibly redshirt you.” But he made no guarantees to Allen, telling the quarterback “we’ll see how the plan works out.”
“If it’s the 10th, 11th or 12th game of the season and we need you in there you’re going in,” Bielema said. “He said, ‘Absolutely coach. No problems.’
“So I mean, it’s who gives us the best chance to win.”
4. Rain, Rain … Come On?
Rain is in the forecast for Saturday night’s game. But Bielema said Thursday he doesn’t mind the wet weather. He prefers it.
“I would probably opt for a little moisture,” Bielema said.
Arkansas did some wet football work in preseason camp and again last week, when early forecasts predicted rain at Rutgers. The Razorbacks worked with wet footballs once again this week just in case there is rain Saturday night.
“Obviously, you’ve got to play the elements for whatever they are,” Bielema said.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau