Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Razorbacks get to see if layoff hurt
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema watches his team during practice Thursday, March 20, 2014, at the UA practice field in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Eleven days will have passed before the Razorbacks hold their first spring football practice since their last workout comprised their first in pads.
Tuesday’s practice begins the last 12 of Arkansas’ NCAA allotted spring football practices that included the first two mandatory noncontact days without pads on March 16 and March 18 before donning pads March 20.
Many in Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema’s shoes might have waited until spring break was done with the start of today’s UA classes before beginning the 15 spring practice dates that the Razorbacks resume on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through the annual Red-White spring intrasquad game April 26 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
They would assume the spring break layoff after three drills would leave their team resuming nearly from scratch.
Bielema doesn’t entirely disagree but says the spacing ultimately will pay off from his experience as head coach at Wisconsin in 2006-2012.
“I think in the long run it helps us more than not,” Bielema said. “It’s something I started doing after my second year at Wisconsin. It actually uses the allotment of the whole time that the NCAA lets you do it. They have got a certain amount of days that they let you get practices in and we make it under by just one day.”
More time means more teaching and more recovery, Bielema believes.
“What it allows you to do is get more players back that you may lose possibly to injury,” Bielema said. “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 and doesn’t deter it.”
Bielema said the first three practices indicated the Razorbacks generally fared well with the winter conditioning program orchestrated by strength coach Ben Herbert.
“To get through practices 1, 2 and 3 the way that we have and the pace that we have has been good,” Bielema said.
Bielema said the mental aspect has been especially stressed to a defense adapting to new coaches Robb Smith, the defensive coordinator, Clay Jennings, working with Smith in the secondary, and defensive line coach Rory Segrest.
Only second-year linebackers coach Randy Shannon returns from the 2013 defensive staff.
“Obviously we have three new defensive coaches but the transition I think has been pretty seamless for our kids,” Bielema said. “What we did before we got on the field this year is take advantage of more learning time. The NCAA allows us a certain amount of hours that we delegated towards football IQ. We called it ‘Hogenese’, a time we sat down and visited with kids about the communication we share as a football team unique to us. Our kids are that much more advanced. And I think that is helping them as much as anything.”
Sports, Pages 16 on 03/31/2014