Nate Allen is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Bielema: Freshmen to play if ready
Arkansas defensive lineman McTelvin Agim goes through drills during practice Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Bret Bielema and his Arkansas staff got an eyeful of what 5-star freshman McTelvin Agim of Hope can do for the Razorbacks' defensive line.
The other incoming Razorbacks scholarship freshmen won't officially practice until the August preseason (Agim enrolled in January) or have summer weight room sessions with strength coach Ben Herbert until after the first session of UA summer school begins on May 31.
That doesn't deter Bielema from mentioning incoming freshmen running backs Devwah Whaley of Beaumont, Texas, and T.J. Hammonds of Pulaski Robinson, and offensive lineman Jake Heinrich of Urbandale, Iowa, as candidates to play right away because of team needs and their potential to fill them.
Then again coaching at Wisconsin for seven years and Arkansas the last three, Bielema said you never know which players among the most touted might actually be the least ready to play right away while some projected to redshirt prove precocious.
"I have had kids come in and been really surprised they helped us," Bielema said. "Then ones I thought were going to help us didn't help us. You get everything from A to Z."
The vast differences in their aptitude to play right away vs. their projections for playing right away shouldn't be unexpected. Because stepping up from high school to SEC level, who really knows what to expect?
"You've never been around them 100 percent," Bielema said. "You have never coached them and found their football IQ completely. A lot of the limiting thing about a freshman playing isn't his physical ability. It's mental. Can he handle the system? The change. The new [terminology]. We don't want ever to put a young man in an academic situation where they might fail. If they don't have the maturity to handle a college workload in the class room in addition to what's going on on the field, I won't play them."
That said, Bielema doesn't want any freshman convinced he can't play right away even as some could benefit from redshirting.
If they are truly ready to play and there is a team need for them, they will play, Bielema said.
Bielema said he didn't think of any position that he would rule out playing a ready-to-play freshman.
Some positions seem more immediately open to newcomers.
"I think at running back [Whaley and Hammonds] can help us," Bielema said. "Wide receiver [loaded with experienced depth] I don't know if it's going to be needed, but I think Jordan Jones [receiver/kick returner from Smackover] brings an element to the game that is very, very good.
"I will be surprised defensively if we don't have someone [presumably Agim] help us up front, a young linebacker and I'm not ruling out someone on the back end. I wouldn't be surprised if someone [a newcomer] at every position played."
Sports on 05/21/2016
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