Clay Henry is the publisher and executive editor of Hawgs Illustrated. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and its All-America committee, voter for the Heisman Trophy and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
State of the Hogs: With 3-4 pieces coming together
University of Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema speaks with members of the media on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, inside the Fred W. Smith Center in Fayetteville on the results from National Signing Day.
MOUNTAIN HOME Just before his time at the microphone at the Baxter County Razorback Club, Bret Bielema had a chance to explain a little more about his defensive personnel and the transition to the 3-4 scheme.
Why the 3-4? Why now?
“We just fit better,” Bielema said in a one-on-one interview. “A lot of our guys fit. We have the stand-up end types and we have players who can be play off the edge a little better in the 3-4 than the 4-3.”
So who would that be?
For starters, it would fit junior college transfer Michael Taylor, ineligible last year but on the practice field with the Hogs from the middle of August forward.
“He's that stand-up end type,” Bielema said. “He was 240 pounds when he got here and he's 270 now. He's sudden - an off-the-edge guy who can get around blockers with his speed. He's a mid-level guy, a lot like what you see at the schools in the (SEC) West that we are playing against at Alabama, Auburn and LSU in that 3-4.
“What I saw in the fall told me that he'd be perfect in the 3-4. He played those guys we were going against at that spot on our scout team and he looked great. He was emulating those guys pretty well. Like I said, he's 270. We might temper (the weight) a little, but he's still very fast at that weight. He looks like the ideal player for that spot.”
Bielema said the defensive scheme is being put together by new coordinator Paul Rhoads. Some of the terminology is in place. The hybrid linebacker/defensive end that Taylor along with Karl Roesler and Randy Ramsey seem to fit at is being called the Hog. The other outside linebacker will be the Razor.
Where will linebacker Dre Greenlaw fit?
“Any of the four spots,” Bielema said. “Really, with Dre, it doesn't matter. He's got that intangible you want on the field: see ball, get ball.”
Greenlaw is recovering nicely from foot surgery after the bowl game, his third foot surgery in his career and second in the last six months.
“He's doing great,” Bielema said. “We won't touch him (for contact) in the spring, but he's going to be out there running around learning. It will be good because some others will get more reps this spring. He's going to be fine in this scheme because of his instincts.
“He's going to continue to play the will and that's the spot in this scheme that should get the majority of the tackles. He'll stay there, but I do think he could play any of the four spots. He's just that talented.”
Bielema said he's close to naming at least one of the two openings on his staff, perhaps a new defensive line coach. Rory Segrest was dismissed this weekend after coaching the defensive line the past three seasons. One thing is for sure: it will not be Charlie Partridge, recently fired as head coach at Florida Atlantic. Partridge was Bielema's defensive line coach at Wisconsin and for one year at Arkansas.
“I think we should be announcing (the DL coach) soon,” Bielema said. “As far as the other position, it's going to be another linebackers coach, someone to coach the edge.”
Bielema said Rhoads would coach the secondary, as well as coordinate the defense.
“Really, the 3-4 stays the same in the secondary,” Bielema said. “The terminology is the same and the technique is the same. Nothing changes that much there. I liked what I saw as far as the relationship with Paul and those guys. They took to him.”
One interesting comment was about the quarterback competition. With the arrival of midterm graduate Daulton Hyatt, the Hogs have what Bielema called his “best depth ever” at that position. Starter Austin Allen returns along with Ty Storey and Cole Kelley.
“It's an open battle,” Bielema said of the No. 1 spot. “But I will say that I expect Austin to win the job again. But I'm not going to say who is one, two or three. They are all equal right now. Competition is good.”
Kelley is healthy after some minor back surgery ahead of the bowl game. Standing every bit of 6-7, Kelley is no little quarterback.
“He's right at 260 and he's been above that,” Bielema said. “I think he might be close to 6-8.
“He's got a rocket of an arm and is very fluid when he takes off. He's something to see when he gets going. He's a very big man and I'm not sure many want to tackle him. He's confident and cocky. Hw moves around well for his size.”
Bielema said Kelley might play at a lower weight, but not a lot lower. Some others who played last year are in a diet mode more so than Kelley.
Johnny Gibson, who started the final five games at right guard, was listed at 344 pounds last fall, but might have been heavier than that. He's dropped a few pounds this spring.
“We'd like to get about 30 off of him,” Bielema said, not mentioning the target weight. We've got about 12 off of him already.”
During his speech to the crowd, Bielema said he's pleased with the early momentum of the spring semester conditioning with strength coach Ben Herbert.
“They are with Coach Herbert four days,” Bielema said. “They do get some time to themselves on Wednesday. I was pleased when I got back to town on Saturday. I came by the office and saw our guys in the indoor facility doing some work on their own. There were 50 guys out there. I don't remember seeing that on a Saturday in the offseason before.
“So our guys are hungry and they have the right attitude after the way they finished. Now, we just have to make sure they maintain it.”
Bielema praised the work of several in the offensive line group trying to make a move after struggling at times in the running game last season.
“We were not able to run the ball against the better defenses,” he said. “But I've seen some guys do some good things this offseason. I think it's going to be good competition this spring.”
There are three new offensive line candidates - midterm graduates Dalton Wagner, Kirby Adcock and Shane Clenin.
“They are very good,” Bielema said. “All of them could play any five positions in the line, but Wagner is definitely going to play tackle. He's very athletic for his size (6-9, 339), can bend and move.”
Gibson began at right tackle last year, but with a slimmer frame could move to left tackle.
“Johnny did play some tackle and that could be something we do in the spring,” Bielema said. “I am pretty sure that Frank (Ragnow) will stay at center, but an option is to play him at tackle if that's what gets us our best five on the field.”
Bielema praised the work Jake Raulerson has done in the weight room. Raulerson was a starter at guard for much of last season after transferring from Texas, but replaced by Gibson late in the year.
“I don't know (Raulerson's) current weight,” Bielema said. “But I can tell you that he looks the best he's been since he's been here. He's done a great job with his body.”
Bielema also praised the two junior college linemen - Deion Malone and Paul Ramirez - from the last signing class.
“They are definitely in the mix,” Bielema said. “Malone is a guard. Ramirez could play either position. He wasn't healthy for about half of last season, but he is now. They both look good.”
Looking good will take on a new twist in the locker room this year. With the blessing of the NCAA, the team will add a barber shop. It was suggested by Bielema's leadership team on the team, the Hog Council. This came up at the dinner when Bielema was asked about player superstitions. He said it had to do with hair style.
“You wouldn't believe how much time the guys spend getting their hair cut,” Bielema said. “I can tell you that on road trips, there would be a (player) cutting their hair. They'd be by the pool and there would be a line.
“I really didn't like the line aspect of it, guys on their feet the day before a game. So we decided to get that done during the week, in the locker room. So there will be barbers come in. It's NCAA-compliant.”
There will be at least one female barber.
“Yeah, my hair cutter, Kimberly, said she wanted to be added,” Bielema said. “I said, 'Really, why you?' She told me, 'I'm already cutting 15 of your staff members.' So she'll be there. It will save a lot of time. We will have to monitor that, because it is a locker room. There can be naked bodies going past. We'll be careful when she's around.”
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