Hear that whis­tle? Let sweat­ing be­gin

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - TOM MUR­PHY

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

de­fense?

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

be im­proved?

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

line­backer?

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.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

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.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

New de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Paul

Rhoads over­saw Arkansas’ switch to the 3-4 de­fense dur­ing the spring.

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