Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - By Tom Mur­phy and Bob Holt

FAYET­TEVILLE — Arkansas Ra­zor­backs Coach Bret Bielema was lis­ten­ing to some of the team’s se­niors Thurs­day as they dis­cussed the open­ing of the first prac­tice for their fi­nal sea­son of col­lege foot­ball.

Bielema said he brought up the sub­ject of the team’s fresh­men and asked the vet­er­ans for their thoughts about the group.

“All to­gether at once they said, ‘They’re fast,’ and that jumped out to them, and I think it jumped out to us,” Bielema said on Mon­day to open the Ra­zor­backs’ sec­ond week of train­ing camp.

Bielema brought up the story af­ter talk­ing about the de­fen­sive backs in the sign­ing class, a group that in­cludes cor­ner­backs such as Chevin Cal­loway, Kam­ren Curl, Jor­don Cur­tis and “a cou­ple of other guys that are just pretty im­pres­sive ath­letes and look good,” he said.

Bielema added that he was hop­ing the se­niors would men­tion the out­stand­ing aca­demic work the fresh­men had put in this sum­mer.

“I was glad with what they said, but I was get­ting more to­ward that en­tire fresh­man class through sum­mer school got only A’s and B’s,” Bielema said. “Not one kid got a C,D or an F. That’s not very com­mon.

That’s a ma­ture group of fresh­men.

“Usu­ally I have one guy who can’t fig­ure out how to log on to his com­puter.”

Early vot­ing

Bret Bielema, who is en­ter­ing his 12th sea­son as a head coach, said this is the first time he hasn’t waited to have play­ers se­lect team cap­tains un­til shortly be­fore the sea­son.

The Ra­zor­backs voted on team cap­tains at the end of spring drills, pick­ing se­nior quar­ter­back Austin Allen, se­nior cen­ter Frank Rag­now, se­nior de­fen­sive back Kevin Richard­son and ju­nior safety San­tos Ramirez.

Bielema said in his seven sea­sons at Wis­con­sin and first four sea­sons at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville, he waited un­til two weeks be­fore the sea­son to pick cap­tains be­cause he didn’t want the vote to be a pop­u­lar­ity con­test, and for fresh­men to have their say.

“To me, some­times new eyes are the best eyes,” Bielema said. “They lit­er­ally can tell who re­ally, truly does lead. Who kind of has a voice. They’re not nec­es­sar­ily go­ing with the most pop­u­lar, which as you get older I think it’s eas­ier to start vot­ing for your buddy.”

Bielema said he changed the for­mat last spring be­cause he wanted to have team cap­tains go­ing into the sum­mer.

“We have a lot of re­ally good kids who say all the right things and do all the right things but were not great com­mu­ni­ca­tors, so I re­ally wanted to force the hand of our lead­er­ship com­mit­tee,” he said. “To me, we got four great ones. Those four guys have re­ally been a great voice for us all sum­mer. I wouldn’t trade them right now for the world.”

Hel­met pads

Vir­tu­ally all the of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive line­men have been wear­ing hel­mets with ex­tra red pad­ding on them as a means of re­duc­ing the im­pact of col­li­sions.

There are pros and cons to wear­ing the padded lids.

“It’s a lit­tle hot­ter,” cen­ter Frank Rag­now said. “But if it’s go­ing to pro­tect our heads and ev­ery­thing, I’m all about it.”

De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Paul Rhoads said the rea­son for wear­ing the pad­ding makes sense.

“You know, it’s the world we live in to­day,” he said. “Ev­ery­body that plays this game, it’s a choice that they play, but it’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect them. If this is a great op­por­tu­nity to pro­tect them on the num­ber of hits they re­ceive, es­pe­cially those guys up close to the ball, it’s ab­so­lutely the right thing to be do­ing.”

New punt re­turner?

Se­nior re­ceiver Jared Cor­nelius has 28 punt re­turns for 269 yards the past three sea­sons, but he’s likely to cede those du­ties when he re­turns from a sore back.

Coach Bret Bielema said the fo­cus is to get him ready to play re­ceiver when the sea­son opens.

“If Jared was cleared and ready to go, I think the last po­si­tion I’d put him on right now … would be punt re­turner,” Bielema said. “I’d want to get him on the line of scrim­mage first.”

With Cor­nelius out, Bielema said the top can­di­dates to re­turn punts are se­nior cor­ner­back Henre To­liver, red­shirt fresh­man Jor­dan Jones, and new­com­ers Chase Hay­den, De’Vion War­ren and Gary Cross.

Kicker com­pe­ti­tion

Ju­nior Cole Hed­lund, who has been the team’s top place-kicker at var­i­ous points dur­ing the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons, is com­pet­ing with sopho­more Con­nor Lim­pert and fresh­man Blake Mazza for the No. 1 job.

Hed­lund hit 14 of 22 field goals and all 83 ex­tra points the past two years.

Lim­pert kicked off 43 times last sea­son and had nine touch­backs. Bielema said Lim­pert im­proved his leg strength in the off­sea­son and has looked good on kick­offs in prac­tice.

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