Bielema delivers written message
ROGERS — Six days before the start of training camp, Arkansas Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema used an old-fashioned method of letting his players know what was on his mind.
“I wrote our guys a letter on Friday,” Bielema said Monday during the NWA Razorback Club golf outing at Shadow Valley Country Club. “I went a little bit old school and wrote a letter and put it in their lockers.”
Bielema said he went over the improvements the team has made since it reported for winter conditioning in January, and he restated the top areas of emphasis, which include becoming a better finishing team.
“Just from the time we came back in January, the things they’ve addressed, the things they’ve done, not only with us as coaches but away from the game amongst themselves, has been very fulfilling for me,” Bielema said.
The Razorbacks, who open the season on Thursday, Aug. 31, against Florida A&M at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, start camp on Thursday, five weeks out from the opener.
Bielema, entering his fifth season at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, said senior center Frank Ragnow
spearheaded a movement in which players often arrive 20-30 minutes ahead of meeting or workout times.
The result, Bielema said, is that he hasn’t received any complaints from his coaching staff or strength and con- ditioning coach Ben Herbert about tardiness or unex- plained absences.
“Zero issues with guys be- ing late or not where they’re supposed to be at the right time,” Bielema said.
Bielema equated the Ra- zorbacks’ efforts to bounce back from a 7-6 season, which ended with scoreless second halves in losses at Missouri and to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl, to that of PGA golfer Jordan Spieth.
Spieth blew a five-shot lead on the back nine at the Masters last April, came to grips with the lost opportunity for a title, and won the British Open on Sunday with a strong finish after blowing a three-stroke lead.
“I see Jordan Spieth go through what he went through yesterday [Sunday], and I’m not saying there’s a great correlation between golf and football,” Bielema said. “But the mentality of the game. Just because you’ve been in a situation doesn’t mean you have to be defined by it. You can change the answer at any time and I think our guys are eager.”
The Razorbacks open camp earlier than most FBS teams because of the Thursday season opener.
One of the first and most important orders of business will be sorting out the large group of receivers and getting them on the same page with senior quarterback Austin Allen.
Senior Jared Cornelius, who had 32 catches for 515 yards and 4 touchdowns, is the lone returning wideout with more than two catches last season.
“I believe in my tenure here, talentwise it might be the deepest group that I’ve had,” receivers coach Michael Smith said. “Just a lot of youngsters that we’ve got to bring along and try to get them in the right position.”
The list of potential contributors behind Cornelius includes sophomores Deon Stewart, La’Michael Pettway and T.J. Hammonds, redshirt freshman Jordan Jones, junior-college transfers Brandon Martin and Jonathan
Nance and a large group of freshmen.
Smith said Stewart will run with Cornelius on the first offense when the Hogs go to team periods at the start of camp.
“I think Deon has earned that through his work late last year and through what he’s done this summer,” Smith said.
“But you’ll also see with the 1s La’Michael, Brandon, Jordan Jones, of course Jared is going to be a constant, and hopefully we can get J. Nance in there at times.”
Smith said true freshmen Maleek Barkley, Jarrod Barnes, Koilan Jackson and De’Vion Warren have piqued his interest.
“I’m going to give them opportunities to go out there and get dirty, and if they’re able to perform the way we think they will, we’re going to be deep.”
Defensively, the switch to a base 3-4 that started with game-planning in the winter months to installation in spring drills will continue for coordinator Paul Rhoads.
“I think we’ve recruited a higher caliber of athlete here since Year 1 to where we are now,” Bielema said. “I really like the fact that we’ll have eight guys on their feet before the ball is snapped. Athletically, I think we should be able to do that.”
Inside linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves said the spring drills in the 3-4 followed by a summer of brushing up on the schemes should help.
“A lot of it is on them,” he said. “Hopefully the extra work that they’ve done this summer and going back and watching what they did … will go a long way with us making this move. We’re going to keep it as simple as we can and not do too much and let the guys play, so hopefully that will work out good.”
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema speaks to reporters Monday at the Shadow Valley Country Club in Rogers. Bielema was at the NWA Razorback Club golf event at the club. The Razorbacks begin fall camp Thursday in Fayetteville.