Af­fa­ble Bielema plays me­dia day straight

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

FAYET­TEVILLE — In the world of op­ti­mists, who see a glass half full, and pes­simists, who see a glass half empty, Bret Bielema is a full-blown op­ti­mist.

The Arkansas Ra­zor­backs glass is al­ways over­flow­ing, and free re­fills are al­ways avail­able.

Bielema was him­self Sat­ur­day as he opened the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville foot­ball me­dia day in a cramped area in­side the Fred W. Smith Foot­ball Cen­ter.

Un­der­stand that his op­ti­mistic en­thu­si­asm is a draw for re­cruits. Most of the play­ers will men­tion the fam­ily at­mos­phere as one of the rea­sons they chose to play for the Ra­zor­backs.

It also builds ex­pec­ta­tions from a loyal fan base, many of whom are ready to see some of the Bielema coach­ing magic from his Wis­con­sin days, when he went 68-24 over­all and 37-19 in the Big Ten while win­ning three con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships.

On Sat­ur­day, Bielema didn’t spread any sun­shine or blow any smoke.

He spoke pos­i­tively about the at­ti­tude and work habits of his play­ers, but he made no pre­dic­tions, of­fered no excuses.

Bielema has a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with most of the me­dia, or at least those who grind and work ev­ery day, be­cause work ethic is some­thing he val­ues.

When he took the podium Sat­ur­day, many of those in the me­dia started pil­ing their recorders in front of him. There were so many, he reached out to take sev­eral of the recorders.

“Here, I’ll take care of them.”

As he took three from one young man, he said, “I’ll turn them off.”

A light chuckle went through the area.

He’s a peo­ple per­son with charm and wit. His play­ers love his open-door pol­icy and that he drops what­ever he’s do­ing when one comes to see him. That in­cludes former play­ers such as Travis Swan­son, who came to see him re­cently.

His play­ers know his feel­ings for them are gen­uine.

Af­ter an open­ing state­ment that men­tioned a few

guys who are banged up, Bielema started tak­ing ques­tions.

By the time he had fin­ished, one might have thought the Hogs needed an am­bu­lance or two at camp ev­ery day.

A lot more play­ers have been hurt — in­clud­ing one most likely lost for the sea­son with a bro­ken foot that re­quired surgery — or were be­ing ob­served — one go­ing through con­cus­sion pro­to­cols — than he may have first re­al­ized, and this is not a very ex­pe­ri­enced team that’s deep in play­ers.

He said he thinks most of the in­jured play­ers will be back in a few days or be­fore the first game, but he knows that’s out of his con­trol and he would never ask an in­jured player to play. He knows the dif­fer­ence be­tween pain and in­jury, and he errs on the side of cau­tion.

Since most fans are cu­ri­ous about im­prove­ments from last sea­son’s por­ous de­fense, most of the ques­tions were about that side of the ball.

He said hard work is be­ing done in prepa­ra­tion of play­ing the 3-4 de­fense.

When he talked about the run­ning game, he didn’t es­ti­mate how much the team was go­ing to miss Rawleigh Wil­liams, which it will, but he men­tioned how im­pres­sive Devwah Wha­ley can be when he jump-starts to full speed.

He raved about cen­ter Frank Rag­now, and he should, and how quar­ter­back Austin Allen is com­pet­ing more against other SEC quar­ter­backs than any­one on cam­pus.

Since Bobby Petrino was here, foot­ball me­dia day had been on a Sun­day, but now the seventh day of the week will be the manda­tory day off, ex­cept around the first game of the sea­son, which is a Thurs­day.

Bielema was more in­for­ma­tive than en­ter­tain­ing Sat­ur­day. He gave an hon­est and op­ti­mistic ac­count of his play­ers and bragged a lit­tle on his staff.

He is def­i­nitely in foot­ball mode.

WALLY HALL

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