Player Profile: Meet Arkansas QB AJ Derby

By Matt Virnig
SEC Football, AJ Derby
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

It’s still unclear whether or not Arkansas Razorbacks starting quarterback Brandon Allen will play this Saturday at Rutgers after bruising his right shoulder last weekend against Southern Miss following the team’s second offensive series.

The sophomore’s injury forced him to miss the rest of the game, with his throwing shoulder in a sling on the sideline. Backup junior quarterback, AJ Derby finished the rest of the USM game and will go into Saturday as the presumed starter for Arkansas.

To many Razorback fans, the name AJ Derby and his road to Fayetteville was very unfamiliar before last weekend. The 6-foot-5 245-pound walk-on from Iowa City, IA was rated as a four-star athlete, receiving a U.S. Army All-American Bowl invite, coming out of Iowa City High School. He received offers from Alabama, Michigan, Stanford, Florida, Florida State, Wisconsin, and numerous others, to play essentially as a tight end/linebacker.  Derby, virtually a Iowa Hawkeye by birth, chose  to stay home at the home state university like his father, John, a first team all-Big Ten linebacker at Iowa in 1991, and his older brother, Zach who lettered at tight end for Kirk Ferentz from 2010-2011.

However, his Hawkeye days of playing quarterback seemingly never got off the ground.

After redshirting his freshman season, Derby began his redshirt freshman year as the backup to James Vandenberg at quarterback, only appearing in nine games passing three times for 30 yards. In an attemptt to log additional playing time, the durable athlete was moved to linebacker after serving a two-game suspension for being charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief and public intoxication. Being moved to defense and not playing the position he came to Iowa for, Derby transferred out.

Derby transferred to Coffeyville (KS) Community College last season, throwing for 149-of-321 passing with 1,936 yards and 22 touchdowns. Derby decided to walk-on at Arkansas this last Spring and play for his dad’s teammate at Iowa, Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema, instead of playing on scholarship at Houston and North Carolina State. He has ended up second string coming into this season as Allen’s backup and will most likely be the starter in Piscataway this weekend.

But the major uncertainty is whether Derby can settle into his role quickly enough come Saturday.

The junior made the most out of a difficult outing coming on in relief of Brandon Allen in the second quarter last Saturday. Derby finished going 4-of-6 for 36 yards in the Hogs’ 24-3 victory over the Golden Eagles.

The conservative, vanilla play-calling of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was enough for Arkansas to win with the dynamic running blend of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams for a combined 231 yards rushing.

But will it be enough to beat the 5th ranked rushing defense of Rutgers if Arkansas doesn’t incorporate a passing game?

Without Allen, Arkansas is losing a quarterback who has looked solid behind center,Travis Swanson, completing 26-of-44 passes for 388 yards and five touchdowns so far in 2013. But the good news is that Derby doesn’t have to be Allen. Derby must manage the game with short, intermediate passes and get the Razorbacks in the right plays. There was no exclamation mark that Allen would’ve shown off his accurate arm in high volumes anyways against Rutgers’ secondary, one of the team’s obvious weaknesses.

Arkansas should turn the page on Allen’s status and turn their sights on No. 11. Derby who has great FBI (football intelligence) and won’t waver under the pressure and expectations from his QB coach/offensive coordinator Chaney.  Arkansas simply isn’t going to abandon their identity on the offensive side, no matter the storyline that the Rutgers team presents. Hard nose, power-I football will be in the cards, and Arkansas will throw curveballs from time to time. Gaining senior tight end Austin Tate and sophomore Keon Hatcher this week, Arkansas will have added necessities  in the passing game for Derby.

Grizzly Adams did have a beard, and Arkansas won’t give Derby anything he can’t handle in his first career division one start on Saturday afternoon.

Matt Virnig is a SEC Writer for, Follow him on Twitter @MatthewVirnig, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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