Me­dia Days full of bab­ble

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - CLAY HENRY

There was a time when there were no con­fer­ence me­dia sum­mits.

There were tours of each cam­pus, ei­ther by bus or by plane. I never did the South­west Con­fer­ence tour, but there are still sto­ries of leg­endary pro­por­tions that pop up from lo­cal TV re­porter Mike Ir­win.

I did make four or five tours (via char­tered plane) in the old Big Eight Con­fer­ence, so I know the drill. You roll into each cam­pus for a full day, in­clud­ing an in­cred­i­ble din­ner each night with the coach­ing staffs at each school.

There was worth­while in­for­ma­tion that came out of those trips. Re­la­tion­ships were made that have lasted a life­time. I’m talk­ing about with coaches and me­dia types. For the record, they weren’t called me­dia in those days. They were sports writ­ers or sportscast­ers.

The events in­cluded in­ter­views with any play­ers on the team. No one was off lim­its. You could talk to ev­ery coach on the staff. Some­times I did.

That’s how I got to know Mack Brown. He was an of­fen­sive as­sis­tant at Iowa State on Don­nie Dun­can’s foot­ball staff. In­ter­est­ingly, my older brother, Butch, was the sports in­for­ma­tion di­rec­tor for Dun­can at Ames.

I write this to ex­plain why I skip the SEC Me­dia Days at Hoover, Ala., each year. It’s noth­ing but or­ches­trated bab­ble. I nod­ded my head when Peter Burns of the SEC Net­work ex­plained as much on Bo Mat­tingly’s ra­dio show this week.

Burns flew to Fayetteville, jumped aboard the Arkansas char­ter with Bret Bielema and three play­ers. He watched as the com­mu­ni­ca­tions staff prepped the play­ers on the trip to Alabama. They were pep­pered with ques­tions so they’d be pre­pared for the mass in­ter­view ses­sions.

Sorry, but I can’t do those. I un­der­stand why there were 1,000 me­dia mem­bers in Hoover to at­tend. It’s part of the sum­mer rou­tine, just not mine. There is no one who can make me go to these events be­cause I’ve seen the real thing — the old cam­pus vis­its.

They don’t hap­pen any­more be­cause they’d be too ex­pen­sive. It’s prob­a­bly smart to give way to a cen­tral lo­ca­tion. It’s what all of the con­fer­ences do, and I get it.

It’s not nearly as good a way as spend­ing an en­tire day (and a night with so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties) like in the old days. Each school tried to outdo the other. I was blown away by Tom Os­borne, Barry Switzer, Jimmy John­son, Chuck Fair­banks, War­ren Pow­ers and oth­ers in the Big Eight.

It was at my first stop at

Ok­la­homa State deep in my first Big Eight Con­fer­ence Sky Writ­ers event that I got to spend qual­ity time with Butch Davis, Dave Wannst­edt and Pat Jones. They were new staffers un­der John­son with the Cowboys.

I pay at­ten­tion when the SEC coaches speak at me­dia days. You can sit in front of your TV and watch on the SEC Net­work. It’s hours of in­ter­views. I just get the idea that it’s all re­hearsed well in ad­vance.

These guys roll out the cliches and talk about their team as if they have been worked by me­dia coaches. I wouldn’t doubt if that’s hap­pened. Burns gave us a tip of that prob­a­bil­ity.

I know that some of the stuff that comes out of it is im­por­tant. I be­lieve that the ac­count­abil­ity fac­tor has risen at Arkansas af­ter the bad fin­ish to a 7-6 sea­son. I heard about that last win­ter and spring from ev­ery player at Arkansas. I’d ex­pect that to be a fo­cus

all sum­mer, too. Frank Rag­now, Austin Allen and Kevin Richard­son gave us that this week in Hoover.

What I re­ally want to know isn’t go­ing to be ob­vi­ous un­til the Ra­zor­backs play a few games: Can they run the ball?

Arkansas couldn’t run the ball when it mat­tered last year. The 2016 Ra­zor­backs av­er­aged just 164.2 yards per game on the ground. That’s the low­est num­ber for a Bret Bielema-coached team since his first year at Wis­con­sin in 2006.

The Hogs av­er­aged just more than 2 yards per rush in­side the red zone.

Does any­one re­call the fail­ures on the goal line against TCU and Texas A&M? No team has looked worse at the 2-yard line than the Hogs did in those two games.

Yes, the Hogs ran it ef­fec­tively in some games. They rolled to big num­bers against Ole Miss, Florida and Mis­sis­sippi State, but

they couldn’t run it against most of the other SEC foes. They were in­ept run­ning the ball in the sec­ond half against Mis­souri and Vir­ginia Tech when they were outscored by a com­bined 56-0.

The run­ning game is the key to the 2017 sea­son. I think the Hogs will be more than good enough through the air with Allen at quar­ter­back. I think he’s got enough tal­ent at tight end and wide re­ceiver, even with los­ing Drew Mor­gan, Keon Hatcher, Jeremy Sprin­kle and oth­ers.

I think the of­fen­sive line will be much- im­proved. There is an air of con­fi­dence around the team con­cern­ing the abil­ity to block and pass pro­tect that wasn’t there at this time last sea­son. I’ve been around Rag­now sev­eral times this sum­mer. He’s ex­cited about the tal­ent and the depth around him up front.

Rag­now might be the na­tion’s best cen­ter. That’s a great place to be­gin each

play. Hjalte Fro­holdt and Johnny Gib­son might be on the verge of be­ing some­thing spe­cial be­side him at guard. Brian Wal­lace and Colton Jack­son should be more than ad­e­quate at tack­les. There is even some O-line depth with Jake Rauler­son, Jalen Mer­rick, Paul Ramirez and Zach Rogers. I couldn’t say that last sum­mer.

I know the de­fense has to im­prove. I think there will be a jump there with im­proved pas­sion, start­ing with the buzz around new co­or­di­na­tor Paul Rhoads. Play­ers seem to be on board with what he was sell­ing in the spring. The most im­por­tant thing that has to im­prove on that side of the ball is ef­fort. You don’t play hard un­less you be­lieve in the leader. The de­fense does now.

I didn’t need to go to Hoover to find out any of this stuff. I was bet­ter served rest­ing my legs af­ter two weeks of heavy duty on

trout streams of Penn­syl­va­nia and Arkansas. There are tro­phy pic­tures in the phone. There are sev­eral of a 26.5-inch rain­bow (es­ti­mated at 14 pounds) from Spring Creek just out­side of State Col­lege, Pa.

The day be­fore that fish­ing trip I ran into James Franklin, the vi­brant young head coach at Penn State. We ex­changed pleas­antries on a side­walk just off cam­pus. It’s as close as any­thing I’ve done to an old Sky Writ­ers Tour. It’s that kind of a re­laxed, un­re­hearsed visit that can’t hap­pen in Hoover.

You might get some vibes in that kind of a talk that would re­ally give you a clue on how a team might be in the com­ing sea­son. Franklin looked and sounded like a coach with a loaded team. Penn State, which lost a thrilling Rose Bowl last sea­son, has re­bounded.

I think that’s the case for Arkansas, too, if that of­fen­sive line gets go­ing.

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