Bigger, faster, stronger Hogs open spring drills Sunday w/new defensive coaching staff
FAYETTEVILLE - Ironically when the 2013 seniors recently ran 40-yard dashes for NFL scouts on Arkansas' Pro Day, Razorback head coach Bret Bielema said he doesn't put much stock in those running tests.
HC Bret Bielema
"I don't need to see a guy run a 4.4 forty to know he can play corner," Bielema said. "For me, if they can play the position and do what we ask them to do, then we get enough testing on the field. It's just something that Herb (Arkansas strength coach Ben Herbert who last year accompanied Bielema from Wisconsin) and I share a common belief in that we don't really need a number to tell us if a kid can play or not. We look at size and we look at ability and we look at certain things they are going to do in the weight room that give us an indicator."
Mainly, they look at how it translates to the field which begins Sunday with the start of spring football practice. The Razorbacks (3-9 in 2013) ended last season on a nine-game losing skid that included all eight SEC games.
"I can't wait for Sunday," Bielema said. "I think our kids have been chomping at the bit. It's at that point now that we've been grinding on them, Herb's been grinding on them. They just kind of want to put some pads on."
The Hogs can't put on pads right away. The NCAA mandates the first two practices be non-contact without pads. Those two practices will be closed to the public and media.
Bielema intends to spread out the 15 allowed spring practice dates, taking off the spring break week of March 24-28. Spring drills conclude April 26 with the annual Red-White intrasquad game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Defensively, the Razorbacks underwent a major staff overhaul this winter. Only linebackers coach Randy Shannon returns. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash departed to be a co-coordinator Ohio State. Line coach Charlie Partridge departed to become head coach at Florida Atlantic, and cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson left to coach the secondary at Purdue.
In their place debut defensive coordinator Robb Smith (formerly with the Tampa Bay Bucs), line coach Rory Segrest (formerly at Samford University and the Philadelphia Eagles), and Clay Jennings (formerly at TCU) assisting Smith with the secondary.
The offensive staff of coordinator Jim Chaney, line coach Sam Pittman, running backs coach Joel Thomas, receivers coach Michael Smith and tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. returns intact.
However, they will have a different center and maybe a different quarterback. All-American four-year starting center Travis Swanson graduates to the NFL draft.
Off a 3-9 season junior Brandon Allen will be challenged by several including his brother and redshirt freshman Austin Allen, redshirt freshman Damon "Duwop" Mitchell, true freshman Rafe Peavey (midterm high school graduate from Bolivar, Mo.) and AJ Derby, last year's backup.
Brandon Allen took his lumps last season but profited from the experience, Bielema said.
Jr QB Brandon Allen
"B.A. looks different," Bielema said. "He has put on weight and looks really, really good. His confidence, his swagger has definitely been increased since the last competitive environment we were in. Between AJ Derby, Austin Allen, Duwop and Rafe Peavey, those guys will all get a number of reps, especially in the first couple of weeks in spring with some open competition to see where they are. As is the case every year, quarterback play is paramount to the offense."
Luke Charpentier, the nominal backup to iron man Swanson, finally gets his chance but another reserve who has paid his dues, Cordale Boyd, will also challenge.
"Between Luke Charpentier and Cordale Boyd, both those guys look really good," Bielema said. "We think those guys will battle it out here in the spring. There is a possibility of some guys coming out in the fall who might roll into that battle: Sebastian Tretola (a junior college transfer) as well as the guy from Minnesota, (freshman Frank) Ragnow."
Although running back Alex Collins (1,026 yards) was named the SEC Freshman of the Year, his late-season ball-security problems plus the consistency of junior Jonathan Williams (900 yards) has put Williams ahead of the running back pack. The secondary/running back tug of war over sophomore Korliss Marshall of Osceola has ended. Marshall begins spring at running back where he flashed major potential last season (an 8.6 average with 17 carries for 147 yards).
Bielema commented on who stood out throughout the winter off-season drills.
He cited Charpentier, Boyd and sophomore Dan Skipper, who moves from guard to tackle, sophomore tight end Hunter Henry and Jonathan Williams. "We just can't ask him (Williams) to do any better," Bielema said. He called mid-term high school graduate receiver Jared Cornelius "one of the most impressive players of the entire spring."
Defensively, Bielema cited senior end Trey Flowers, sophomore tackle Darius Philon and linebackers Brooks Ellis and Martrell Spaight.