Hogs relish chance to butt heads
FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks practiced for the first time in pads Saturday, which meant more contact, especially for the offensive and defensive lines.
“They were physical,” quarterback Austin Allen said. “Those guys have been waiting about four months to get back going at each other. There’s a lot of intensity on the lines, and it’s just good for everyone to get that physicality.”
Offensive coordinator Dan Enos said there was good energy at practice.
“Our strength staff has obviously done a good job,” Enos said. “We’re in great shape, so the conditioning has been really good because we’ve been able to sustain and have really good work.”
Center Frank Ragnow said it was good to have a physical practice, but the offense made mistakes.
“We definitely need to clean up the errors whether it’s about ball control, false starts and stuff like that,” Ragnow said. “But it was a good first day in pads.”
As is his custom, Coach Bret Bielema has assigned team leaders to handle media obligations for the first week of camp.
Bielema met solo with the media on the opening day of camp Thursday, while defensive captains Santos Ramirez and Kevin Richardson and coordinator Paul Rhoads conducted interviews Friday.
Offensive captains Austin Allen and Frank Ragnow took media questions Saturday, along with coordinator Dan Enos.
After today’s mandatory off day, a wider variety of players is expected to file through the media room at the Smith Football Center as the Razorbacks move closer to Saturday’s first scrimmage followed that afternoon by media day.
Offensive coordinator Dan Enos said installation of the playbook is on schedule.
“Yeah, we’re moving ahead man,” Enos said. “Three days, knock on wood, it’s been really good. I think there’s been good retention.
“The guys did a good job remembering from spring practice, and then the players’ only workouts all summer … you can see they’ve done a good job. You can see there’s a good understanding there. We’re moving along very rapidly with the install. We have some new wrinkles obviously we’re looking at, but we’ve been very pleased.”
Safety Reid Miller is taking first-team reps at holder from deep snapper Robert Decker on kicks by Cole Hedlund.
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville Coach Bret Bielema said the trend has gone away from quarterbacks holding for kicks in high school, thus there are fewer college quarterbacks with experience at the job.
The Razorbacks’ second unit for kicks has been snapper Jordan Silver to holder Grant Morgan for kicker Blake Mazza, a left-footed kicker.
Walk-on receiver Gary Cross is gaining notice from Arkansas personnel regarding his athletic ability. The former Fordyce Redbug was one of very few Razorbacks who did a one-step jump over a 60-inch hurdle during summer testing.
“That was pretty impressive,” Coach Bret Bielema said. “He’s very athletic, and he can catch the ball. I’m excited with what he brings to the room.”
Said quarterback Austin Allen, “He’s a guy who doesn’t talk too much and keeps to himself, but he can play. You put him out there in those game situations, and he’s making one-on-one catches with just his body control and how high he can jump. He’s special.”
Among the other players Bielema said pulled off a 60-inch leap are receivers Jordan Jones and Jarrod Barnes, and cornerback Britto Tutt.
The top one-step jumper among 250-pounders and up was tight end Jeremy Patton, who came very close to clearing 60 inches.
“I don’t know what the hurdle was set on, but he was the only guy over 250 that cleared it on our football team,” Bielema said. “He was letting everybody know about it. He’s not afraid to talk a little bit. He’s a fun one to watch.”
Mad Squirrel Hays
Center Frank Ragnow said the offensive linemen have fun kidding nose guard Dylan Hays about moving from their position group to defense.
“We give him a lot of crap for that,” Ragnow said. “But he’s like a little wrecking ball. I think that’s why they moved him to defense.
“He’s like a little mad squirrel. But he’s been good. He’s been really impressive. You can definitely tell he’s got the motor for it.”
Nose guard Bijhon Jackson and ends McTelvin Agim and T.J. Smith have worked on the first-team defensive line through two days.
“You’ve got to have somebody who starts there,” defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. “But is that defensive line position, all three of them, open? Absolutely. Competition is at the forefront with those guys, and we want to see who’s going to step up and be the smartest, the most accountable and the most productive guys.”
Nose guard Austin Capps is working on the second team with ends Armon Watts and Briston Guidry. The third-team line has Dylan Hays paired with ends Michael Taylor and Jake Hall.
“It’s going to be a committee position,” Rhoads said. “We’re going to play a multitude of guys at the ends and the nose position.”
Rhoads said he’s confident Arkansas has enough linemen.
“It’s one of the reasons why we’ve switched to a 3-4 system,” he said. “You don’t have to have eight to have a two-deep; you have to have six to have a two-deep.
“We’re seeing how high a level all these guys can play. But with the guys that we’ve seen through spring practice and heading into pads … yeah, I think we can get to a quality depth position.”
Time to play
Center Frank Ragnow said he expects to take part in preseason scrimmages after being held out in the spring as a safety precaution.
“I believe I’m full go,” Ragnow said. “It’s time to start playing football.” Power play
Alabama Coach Nick Saban said in an interview with ESPN that he believes teams in Power 5 conferences should play all 12 games against Power 5 opponents.
Saban said that would increase interest among fans and make for better TV matchups, adding that if it happened the NCAA should drop its requirement for teams to have at least six victories to qualify for a bowl game.
“We should do the bowl games just like we do the NCAA Basketball Tournament,” Saban said. “Not by the record, but some kind of power rating that gets you in a bowl game.”
Bret Bielema smiled when asked about his thoughts on Saban’s proposal.
“I think if you’re someone that’s won several national championships, you can say whatever you want, and everybody’s going to think it’s right,” Bielema said. “So it doesn’t do me any good to make an opinion.”
Bielema said he enjoys playing TCU, which is Arkansas’ nonconference opponent from a Power 5 conference for the second consecutive season.
“How about this? I’ll throw this back at you, all right?” Bielema said. “If we go to the 14 [week] schedule where we get two bye weeks, I think there’s some merit to that, all right? But in this league, I’ve experienced it. It’s not like somebody that’s just throwing out hot air. There is a difference playing in the SEC West.”
Bielema said he understands the attraction of more games against Power 5 teams.
“I know the fans would love it, but you’ve also got to keep people healthy,” he said. “I think you’d have to adapt maybe squad sizes a little bit.”
Bret Bielema was talking about scheduling last week when he segued into Arkansas’ upcoming nonconference games against Notre Dame, which are scheduled for 2020 in Notre Dame and 2025 in Fayetteville.
“Nobody’s asked me in here about playing Notre Dame,” Bielema said. “I’ve been trying to get that game going for a long time.”
Bielema said he started up “a little bit” of a relationship with Irish Coach Brian Kelly a couple of years ago.
“The opportunity came about, kind of indirectly because, I think, Michigan dropped us for Notre Dame,” Bielema said. “It’s weird how the whole world works because now we’re able to get back in that conversation.”
Last July, Michigan backed out of a two-game series with the Razorbacks, which was scheduled for 2018-2019, because the Wolverines rekindled their rivalry with Notre Dame. Michigan had to pay a $2 million buyout to break the contract.
Bielema was asked whether he was a fan of Notre Dame as a kid growing up in Prophetstown, Ill., in the western part of the state.
“I followed whatever was on TV,” he said. “We had one TV in the living room and I was the remote. I guess Notre Dame was on quite a bit.
“I honestly grew up kind of an Illinois fan. Then I converted to Iowa when I went there, obviously.”
Receiver Gary Cross’ athletic ability has gotten the attention of Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema who said the former Fordyce standout’s one-step jump over a 60-inch hurdle was “pretty impressive.”