FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Brandon Allen has looked the part of starting quarterback at Arkansas this spring, taking the majority of the first-team snaps and showing flashes of big-play ability.
The sophomore, however, hasn't done quite enough in the eyes of new coach Bret Bielema to separate himself from challenger Brandon Mitchell.
At least, not yet.
The competition to be Tyler Wilson's successor isn't likely to end following Saturday's Red-White game, likely carrying on into fall practice. Bielema has made it clear he's not a two-quarterback kind of guy, so there figures to be only one winner in this race — whether that's now or before the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette on Aug. 31.
Allen, who served as Wilson's primary backup last season, has said he doesn't mind a long battle for the job. In fact, he doesn't see anything changing about his relationship with Mitchell even if a starter is named after Saturday.
"I think that drive is really in both of us, and it wouldn't stop either way if one of us is named," Allen said. "We'd still try to push each other."
While Allen has emerged as the front-runner this spring, it's Mitchell who has the edge in experience. The 6-foot-4, 239-pound senior served as Wilson's backup two years ago, connecting on 22 or 32 passes for 271 yards.
However, Mitchell switched to wide receiver last summer in an attempt to earn more playing time during Wilson's senior season. He switched back to quarterback after Bielema was hired, a move Mitchell said was intended all along and one he hopes gives him an edge.
"It just lets me know what the receiver is thinking and where to put the ball," Mitchell said. "I think it has given me some insight over some of the quarterbacks, being able to play that position and knowing what they are looking at when they are out there."
Mitchell struggled early this spring learning the terminology of new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, sometimes calling routes what they had been called under former coach Bobby Petrino and last season's interim coach, John L. Smith.
Chaney, whose career has included stops at Purdue and the NFL along with a stint at Tennessee, said the transition has gone about as expected this spring. He initially took a simple approach to installing the offense and admitted it was "tough for me to say anything positive about what we've been getting done in the passing game," but he saw much-needed progress in a recent scrimmage.
Allen connected on several deep passes in that scrimmage, as he has done with growing frequency this spring.
"Right now, I feel we're a little bit smoother, it appears, with Brandon Allen but not considerably," Chaney said. "And statistically, he might be a little bit ahead, but not considerably. I mean, there's no great separation in my opinion."
Chaney said he's comfortable letting two front-runners carry on their competition as long as Bielema sees fit.
The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Allen emerged last summer as a viable backup to Wilson following Mitchell's move to receiver and after a redshirt season his first year on campus. He struggled, however, in the second half of Arkansas' loss to Louisiana-Monroe after Wilson suffered a concussion and the following week in a 52-0 loss to Alabama.
Even if a starter isn't named after Saturday, Allen plans to fill the role of offseason leader that Wilson took on in each of the last two summers.
"Different faces have to step up with a pretty young group of there," Allen said. "It's really going to come down to people leading each other. I'm going to do my best to lead everyone, and that's a role I think I'm trying to step into."
Mitchell, for his part, is on board with whatever decision Bielema makes — whenever that might be.
"It's going to be crazy because we don't know when coach is going to decide," Mitchell said. "I guess whenever he feels like he is ready to make the decision, that's when he'll make the decision."