New camp rules lead to tweaks
2-a-days in past; rest day instituted
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.”
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.”