Hear that whistle? Let sweating begin
FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks start training camp today at 4:10 p.m. with a 105-man roster in what is believed to be the program’s earliest opening.
The July 27 start date is a product of several factors: evolving NCAA legislation that has banned two-a-day practices; legislation that allows schools to stretch out the 29 practices of camp to accommodate for the twoa-days ban; and the Razorbacks’ season opener on Thursday, Aug. 31.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville will follow Mississippi State, which opened camp Tuesday, as the second SEC school to start practice.
The Razorbacks are aiming to improve on last year’s 7-6 record and a tie for fifth in the SEC West with a 3-5 mark.
Fifth-year Coach Bret Bielema brings back seven offensive starters, including quarterback Austin Allen and center Frank Ragnow, the offensive captains. Seven players with significant starting experience return on defense, including all projected starters in the secondary.
The weather forecast for today’s closed workout calls for a high temperature of about 91 degrees with a 35 percent chance for rain. The heat index could be close to 100 degrees, depending on the humidity.
NCAA guidelines call for a mandatory recovery day each week during camp, and Bielema said that will come on Sundays.
“I just kind of went back and forth,” Bielema said about picking the off day. “Sometimes you think about Monday. Sunday just happened to be a day off for everything you’ve got to get done that day. That’ll be kind of our standard day off during the 5½ weeks of camp.”
The Razorbacks were picked to finish fourth behind Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the SEC West, which has generally been regarded as the toughest division in the FBS for the past decade.
A look at the top five questions facing the Razorbacks in training camp:
1. How will Arkansas adjust to the base 3-4
The answer will play out as the season progersses, but Bielema had been considering the change for many months as a way to be more versatile with matchups and get more agile defenders covering open spaces.
New coordinator Paul Rhoads got the players to buy in during spring drills, which is about half of the battle.
The Razorbacks, who have allowed more than 6.0 yards per play each of the past two seasons, ranked last among the 128 FBS teams with a school-record 39 rushing touchdowns allowed (Alabama gave up an FBS-best 5 in 2016 by comparison), 126th with 5.91 yards allowed per carry, and 94th with 205.5 rushing yards allowed per game.
Arkansas gave up 6.75 yards per play to rank 123rd in the FBS.
2. Will the offensive line
The return of Ragnow, along with fellow starters Hjalte Froholdt, Johnny Gibson and Brian Wallace, would indicate that Arkansas should have a better offensive front. Colton Jackson will get first shot at left tackle, which Dan Skipper occupied last season.
The Hogs must do a better job of protecting Allen. Arkansas (35 sacks allowed) ranked 106th in the FBS with 2.7 sacks allowed per game. The constant pressure on Allen might have contributed to his 15 interceptions, which tied for 102nd in the nation.
The Razorbacks (164.2 rushing yards per game) tied Vanderbilt for 77th in the nation, but their 4.1 yards per carry was 90th.
3. Are there enough quality contributors at
The Razorbacks have run with perilously low numbers using mostly two, but sometimes three, linebackers the last couple of seasons. Bielema and Rhoads think some of the “tweener” talent, hybrid end-linebacker and linebacker-safety body types, will help populate the positions.
If Dre Greenlaw can stay healthy after two foot surgeries last year, the Hogs have a good starting point on their interior spots with him and De’Jon Harris. Behind them are largely unproven players in Josh Harris, Dee Walker, Grant Morgan, Giovanni LaFrance, Kyrei Fisher and others.
Veterans Randy Ramsey, Karl Roesler and Dwayne Eugene are the top options at the “Razor” and “Hog” outside linebacker spots. Eugene did OK in six starts at Greenlaw’s weakside position last year, ranking seventh on the team with 44 tackles. Neither Ramsey nor Roesler has been a long-term starter. Position jumper Jamario Bell and newcomers Derrick Munson, Josh Paul and Gabe Richardson might have the opportunity to break into the two-deep. 4. Can the Hogs account
for the loss of TB Rawleigh Williams? Williams, a 1,360-yard rusher in 2016, suffered a neck injury at the end of spring, the second of his career, that led to his retirement from football. Sophomore Devwah Whaley, who rushed for 602 yards and three touchdowns last season, should step in as the Hogs’ primary back.
The question then becomes can some combination of the newcomers — transfer David Williams and freshmen Maleek Williams and Chase Hayden — fill in capably behind Whaley? Williams, a graduate transfer from South Carolina, came aboard midway through summer and has SEC experience. Sophomore T.J. Hammonds, who practiced as a slot receiver in the spring, is available for tailback duties if needed.
5. Who will provide catches at wide receiver?
Subtract senior Jared Cornelius’ 32 receptions and the rest of the Razorbacks’ wideouts combined for two catches last year, one each by Deon Stewart and La’Michael Pettway, whose lone catch was a 10-yard touchdown versus Alcorn State.
Position coach Michael Smith said he has the deepest pool of receiver talent during his tenure, so sorting it out before the end of August will be a chore.
Stewart, who will open with Cornelius on the starting offense, and Pettway are logical candidates to emerge as top targets, along with junior-college transfers Brandon Martin and Jonathan Nance, sophomore Hammonds and redshirt freshman Jordan Jones.
Freshmen Maleek Barkley, Jarrod Barnes, Koilan Jackson and De’Vion Warren could challenge Jones and fellow redshirt Kofi Boateng for playing time. Several of the freshmen have played primarily at quarterback, so their development through camp is a key aim.
It is imperative the Hogs find quality deep threats, which makes the progress of Jones, Martin and some of the others very important.
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema opens preseason drills for his fifth season with the Razorbacks today. The Hogs open the season Thursday, Aug. 31, against Florida A&M in Little Rock.
New defensive coordinator Paul
Rhoads oversaw Arkansas’ switch to the 3-4 defense during the spring.