Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
QB earns praise entering break
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema walks onto the field in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Little Rock, Ark., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema summed up the Razorbacks’ first week of spring football drills by praising the team’s first full-pads practice Thursday.
“I thought yesterday was a great culmination of a couple of days of work,” Bielema said Friday during his first news conference of spring. “To get out there in pads yesterday was awesome.”
The Razorbacks, who worked three days during the week, will take a week off for spring break along with the rest of campus and start back April 1 with 11 more practices prior to the Red-White game April 26.
Bielema said he first employed the split-spring approach during his second season at Wisconsin. The Razorbacks’ 15 spring practices will span a 42-day period, one day less than the maximum allowed by the NCAA.
“I think in the long run, it’s something that helps us more than not,” he said. “What it allows you to do is get more players back that you may lose possibly to injury if you scale it down to a three-week session or four-week session. You may lose a couple of players that you never get back.
“It allows us to put a teaching day between each practice day and allows the body to get better recovery and be able to perform better. I think as far as mental recall it only enhances it.”
First-year defensive coordinator Robb Smith said he also favors the format.
“I’ve done it before and I kind of like it,” he said. “It spreads spring football out a little bit longer, and the longer we can be involved in football, I mean, it’s what we love to do.”
Bielema said statistics compiled by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney indicated quarterback Brandon Allen’s completion percentage through the first three days has been in the low 60s.
“I’d love to get him 70 percent or higher,” he said.
Allen said his offseason work with strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert has reshaped his body as he’s lost fat and added muscle.
“He looks like a different guy,” Bielema said. “Just his field presence, his awareness.”
Allen looks ready to progress faster with the offensive concepts, Bielema and Chaney have said in recent days.
“We’ve been a little bit slow and steady, just trying to get everybody on the same page, and he definitely has awareness, conceptually, of every play, every call,” Bielema said. “It’s neat for him to see a couple of new defensive change-ups that are going to make him read and do things differently.”
Bielema was asked if he thought he had to prove himself to the players after a 3-9 season, which included the school’s first 0-8 SEC season and a nine-game losing streak.
“Me prove myself with the kids? No,” Bielema said. “I haven’t seen anything but a trust and a faith from our guys. It’s something I probably don’t really concern myself with. If you present yourself in the right way, there isn’t any reason for those guys to waver.
“The fact they do what we ask them to do now more than ever … I always tell our guys that you look for indicators, the behavior in the classroom and the way they conduct themselves off the field and the way they have responded to our philosophy in how they need to build their bodies up has been so much more than a year ago.
“Last year, there was resistance. This year, there hasn’t been anything but unwavering support, and that has been a lot of fun to be around.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 03/22/2014