5 things to watch during the Arkansas spring football game

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas Razorbacks fans hoping to get an in-person glimpse at the 2017 football team Saturday afternoon in the Red-White spring game won’t have the opportunity to do so after the school closed the game to the public because of severe weather forecasts for the day.

But all is not lost. The game still will air at 1 p.m. ET on SEC Network.

The program’s news release did not specify if the game would be moved to the Razorbacks’ indoor facility or still be played at a disheveled Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Razorback Stadium is undergoing a massive renovation project on its north side. If the game is played there, both the Red and White offensive units will play toward the south end zone. Spring game formats and scoring systems are notoriously arbitrary, and Arkansas’ will be no different.

Arkansas will play its starters against “the world” — meaning everybody else — and second- and third-team points will count double.

5. The specialists

It’s no secret that Arkansas kickers and punters represent major questions about this team entering 2017. At punter, the Razorbacks must replace the reliable Toby Baker. Right now, the front-runner for that job is Blake Johnson, who, you’ll recall, was sent to “extreme timeout” just a couple weeks ago. He’s been inconsistent since arriving on campus, so it will be very interesting to watch how he performs in the spring game.

Junior Cole Hedlund looks like the front-runner to become the placekicker. He’s struggled to hang onto that job the last two seasons. In the spring game last year, he missed 4 field goals. Then, several months later, he was replaced midway through the season. Will this spring game be better for Hedlund?

Arkansas is bringing in preferred walk-on Blake Mazza this summer to compete with all of their specialists. If Johnson and/or Hedlund struggle in the spring game, Mazza might be a name to remember come fall.

4. Freshman RB Maleek Williams

Arkansas knows who its No. 1 and No. 2 running backs will be in 2017. Junior Rawleigh Williams III and sophomore Devwah Whaley have those spots pretty well locked down, although there could be some flipping back and forth. But Arkansas coach Bret Bielema likes to have three running backs and Maleek Williams — a true freshman early enrollee from Punta Gorda, Fla. — could very well be that guy.

He’ll have a little more competition once Chase Hayden arrives this summer, but Williams certainly has gained a leg up by already being here. How will he perform his first time in front of fans?

3. The new crop of pass catchers

The Razorbacks return starting quarterback Austin Allen, but outside of senior Jared Cornelius — who is limited this spring with a hamstring injury — it’s still anybody’s guess who else will catch Allen’s passes. There is a nice group of talented, but unproven, options, including sophomores Deon Stewart, LaMichael Pettway and T.J. Hammonds. Junior college transfers Brandon Martin and Jonathan Nance could also both end up being playmakers.

Then there’s the tight end spot. Fans should definitely keep an eye on who is getting first-team reps at tight end.

2. The backup QB battle

The ongoing battle between sophomore Ty Storey and redshirt freshman Cole Kelley is one that could end up shaping the future of Arkansas’ program. Either Storey or Kelley will be the No. 2 guy in 2017 and then automatically become Allen’s heir apparent for 2018. Offensive coordinator Dan Enos has insisted throughout the spring that there has been no separation between the two guys. Could the spring game prove to be the difference?

1. Paul Rhoads and the 3-4 defense

Nothing is more important this spring than the development of the Arkansas defense. After how bad that group was in 2016, it will also probably be the story line that dominates fall camp and most of the 2017 season. Bielema completely overhauled his defensive staff, elevating Paul Rhoads to the defensive coordinator position to install a brand-new 3-4 system.

Bielema also hired John Scott Jr. to coach defensive linemen and Chad Walker to coach outside linebackers. This spring has been all about experimentation, as we’ve seen several players shuffle around to different positions as Razorbacks coaches try to find the right front-7 group. Whatever group of D-linemen and linebackers are with the first unit Saturday will obviously represent where things stand as Arkansas enters summer workouts.

2017 Arkansas spring game information

Time: 1 p.m. ET (Noon CT)

Date: Saturday, April 29

Location: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Ark.

Cost: Admission to the Red-White spring game is free

What TV channel is broadcasting the 2017 Arkansas spring game?

The SEC Network will broadcast the game. Check here to find the SEC Network on your local cable provider.

How can I stream the 2017 Arkansas spring game online?

Fans can stream the game via WatchESPN.com or on the WatchESPN app.

Yardbarker: College Football

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