New camp rules lead to tweaks

2-a-days in past; rest day in­sti­tuted

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - TOM MUR­PHY

FAYET­TEVILLE — This isn’t Bear Bryant’s Junc­tion Boys.

And it’s not your fa­ther’s style of two-a-days foot­ball train­ing camp.

It’s not even last year’s mod­i­fied pre­sea­son prepa­ra­tion, when the NCAA lim­ited its mem­ber schools to five op­por­tu­ni­ties for two-a-day prac­tices.

What col­lege foot­ball teams across the coun­try are en­gaged in now is a brand-new model of camp, with the safety of play­ers at the fore­front of the struc­ture.

The NCAA has man­dated that play­ers re­ceive one full day off per week dur­ing camp. Two-a-day prac­tices are “not rec­om­mended,” but a walk-through with­out hel­mets or pads and with no con­di­tion­ing work can take place on the day of a reg­u­lar prac­tice. There can be only three “con­tact” prac­tices per week, and a non­con­tact or min­i­mal-con­tact work­out must fol­low the day af­ter a scrim­mage.

The NCAA let schools add a week or so to camps to fit in all of the 29 al­lowed prac­tices with the built-in off days.

Arkansas Ra­zor­backs Coach Bret Bielema said his staff and team have adapted swiftly to the new guide­lines.

“The new rules are the new rules. I don’t tend to com­ment whether I like them or don’t like them,”

Bielema said. “I just live by them.”

Bielema said he sched­uled the open­ing of camp for July 27 so there would be 29 prac­tices be­fore the Ra­zor­backs open against Florida A&M on Aug. 31.

“I lit­er­ally went back, and in my 11 years prior to this year as a head coach, I had never used all 29 days ever in my en­tire time,” Bielema said. “We polled our coaches and … they said the same thing. It was usu­ally around that 25-27.”

Arkansas’ sea­son-open­ing op­po­nent, Florida A&M, opened camp July 25, two days be­fore the Hogs. How­ever, the Rat­tlers open the sea­son Aug. 26 against Texas South­ern, four days be­fore the team takes buses to Lit­tle Rock.

In Bryant’s day — par­tic­u­larly the no­to­ri­ous Junc­tion Boys episode of 1954 at Texas A&M dur­ing a heat wave — men­tal and phys­i­cal en­durance were pushed far be­yond the stan­dard realm. Wa­ter breaks were treated as re­wards.

Bielema has as­signed Sun­days as his team’s manda­tory off day dur­ing camp.

“I like the Sun­days off,” se­nior cor­ner­back Henre To­liver said. “That’s un­be­liev­able. Be­cause nor­mally when you think of camp, you think your life is taken from you in train­ing camp.”

A large ma­jor­ity of a cou­ple of dozen Ra­zor­backs in­ter­viewed at Satur­day’s Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville me­dia day were sup­port­ive of the new NCAA camp guide­lines.

“It helps de­crease the num­ber of in­juries you have dur­ing camp,” se­nior safety Josh Lid­dell said af­ter the Ra­zor­backs’ 140-play scrim­mage Satur­day. “It lets guys rest and re­cover, kind of re­ju­ve­nate your mind a lit­tle bit. Like to­day, we had a long scrim­mage. An off day af­ter that I think is huge for you.”

Most of his team­mates agree.

“The day off thing is a huge plus for us, not only phys­i­cally but men­tally,” line­backer Karl Roesler said.

“That gives us an­other day to pre­pare on our own,” se­nior de­fen­sive cap­tain Kevin Richard­son said. “Coaches hold us ac­count­able to get over­time. We’ll take our off day as a sec­ondary and go sit and watch film over ten­den­cies of re­ceivers and ten­den­cies of the quar­ter­back.”

Quar­ter­back Austin Allen, an of­fen­sive cap­tain, said the off day is a wel­come re­cov­ery day.

“Other fall camps, you’re go­ing ev­ery day and grind­ing it out,” he said. “I don’t mind it. We’ve got the next two weeks full of foot­ball. We signed up for this. It’s some­thing we all love to do.”

The ones who aren’t as en­am­ored of the for­mat, cen­ter Frank Rag­now and tight end Austin Cantrell among them, ac­cepted the premise be­hind the idea.

“I like two-a-days, but I don’t know,” Rag­now said. “What­ever we’ve got to do, I’ve got to do, I guess.”

Cantrell pointed out that there are still 29 prac­tices in camp, but the new rules al­lowed schools to spread camp out by more than a week longer than be­fore.

“What is it, an ex­tra week and a half or some­thing?” Cantrell asked. “It’s not too bad, I don’t think. I did like the two-a-day sched­ule, but I’m fine with one ev­ery day and get­ting Sun­day off. I think the Sun­day off def­i­nitely helps guys recharge their bat­ter­ies and you come back re­fo­cused and re­freshed.”

Red­shirt fresh­man quar­ter­back Cole Kel­ley liked the more com­pact camp for an­other rea­son.

“I like the day off per week, but as a quar­ter­back, phys­i­cally, our prac­tices weren’t as hard, so I kind of liked two-a-days,” Kel­ley said. “Be­cause now we have to go like a week or two longer.

“But for ev­ery­body else, I think it’s bet­ter. For me per­son­ally, I like the two-a-days be­cause our prac­tices aren’t as hard.”

Red­shirt fresh­man line­backer Gio­vanni LaFrance said he was mostly am­biva­lent about the changes.

“It’s still fall camp at the end of the day,” he said. “I’m kind of glad they took two-adays away be­cause that was kind of a lot. It’s re­ally the same thing, they just added more days to it.”

Arkansas de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Paul Rhoads said be­cause the camp is longer, he ex­pects there to be lulls.

“Like the coaches say, it’s a long run in­stead of a sprint now,” To­liver said Satur­day. “It’s more grind­ing. To­day was prac­tice nine. I mean, our bod­ies are beat up now. We have two weeks left.”

TCU Coach Gary Pat­ter­son, whose team trav­els to face Arkansas in Week 2, said he changed his prac­tice sched­ule five times in the lead up to camp. Pat­ter­son brought up some of the co­nun­drums coaches face in sched­ul­ing camp due to the lim­ited num­ber of days of live tack­ling.

“If you can’t hit as many times dur­ing the week, do you do 200-play scrim­mages in­stead of 100?” he asked at his open­ing news con­fer­ence of camp. “Do you do 30-35 mid­dle drills in­stead of 18? What do you do to grow your team up?”

Bielema likened the trend in col­lege camps to that of the NFL, whose play­ers union has ne­go­ti­ated fewer live-tack­ling days and other re­stric­tions on prac­tices.

“I reached out to the way dif­fer­ent peo­ple are han­dling it,” he said. “The one over­rid­ing theme was to try to get your de­vel­op­men­tal play­ers as many op­por­tu­ni­ties to have learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences on the field as you phys­i­cally can within the NCAA rules.”

Said Pat­ter­son: “It’s hard for peo­ple to an­a­lyze the pro model and say this is the col­lege model. What they would tell you is the model they have is a whole lot bet­ter for the veter­ans. Their rook­ies and free agents and the guys they traded for will have a harder time fit­ting in to their scheme be­cause they don’t get as much prac­tice.

“You don’t worry about your ones and twos, but how do you grow up your whole foot­ball team? Where coaches grow up their teams is in two-a-days.”

Bielema

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said the Ra­zor­backs are adapt­ing to the new NCAA guide­lines that al­low schools 29 al­lot­ted prac­tices for fall train­ing camp. “The new rules are the new rules. I don’t tend to com­ment whether I like them or don’t like them,” Bielema said. “I just live by them.”

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