State of the Hogs: Meeting Fans

Bret Bielema keeping busy this week, meeting fans and his team. The Arkansas coach had his first time with players and is also speaking to Razorback Clubs.

Bret Bielema is on the spring speaking circuit. He's been at Mountain Home, Morrilton and then on state-wide radio in the last three nights.

It's an exciting time as he gets to know Arkansas fans and his players. On Tuesday, it was his first time to be "hands on" with the Razorbacks in some conditioning work.

Bielema told the Baxter County group on Monday that players were put in jerseys so he could begin to put a face with a roster name and video.

The first-year UA football coach declined to talk about players in specifics, but said they are beginning to get "bumps in the right places" after six weeks with strength coach Ben Herbert.

But he did get into philosophy when a young fan in Mountain Home asked whether he expected his team to improve more on offense or defense next season.

"I think I'm a defensive coach and the defense has quite a bit of personnel that's played," he said. "They have a chance to be good. One of the things we pride ourselves on defensively, we don't do a lot, but what we do, we do well.

"We are not going to try to over complicate the system. The strategy is called keep it inside and in front of you. If it's in the other color, hit it and take the ball out as many times as you can.

"I do like coaching an aggressive defense. In certain ways, today's offenses limit ways you can bring pressure. My philosophy is this, play good defense on first down, make second down more manageable, then have some fun on third down.

"Offensively, it will get down to how well we can block people. The quarterback has to come around a little, but it really does get to who can block people. There's some freaks in the SEC. They are hard to block."

Bielema was hesitant to go deep in the next question, an analysis of strengths and weaknesses for his new team.

"Everyone has been in my ear, but I don't want to say too much until I see them on the field," he said. "But I do think we have a couple of good defensive linemen who are very gifted and very talented and could be some of our better players.

"I really like some of our young linebackers. From what I've seen on film, they are really aggressive. They like to hit people. That's a good thing as a linebacker. We asked them what they were doing last year, they said, ‘We really don't know.' That's a good thing because we get to teach them. They were just kinda playing as freshmen and I don't think they were really engaged in what was going on.

"Offensively, the line, I do like the fact that those kids are really grinding over there. They are not proven players. You just lost a great quarterback, a big tight end, some good offensive lineman. Those kids are all really hungry and we are going to have great competition."

Spring drills begin Sunday, March 10, in less than three weeks. Bielema said he has simple expectations.

"I'm looking for two things, we get better every day, and we approach things with the right attitude," he said. "If we do that, we'll be where we want to be. The one thing that's really impressed me about our kids, listening to Coach Herbert and our coaches, the kids are very hungry, very eager to buy into what we are selling."

Bielema is excited to be with the team for a three-week period before spring drills where he'll begin to learn players in the offseason conditioning drills.

"I think the first part with Coach Herbert has gone well," Bielema said. "I've had a lot of kids stopping in my office excited about their bodies, the changes that have been kind of happening. I think we are going to be ready to roll.

"The NCAA limits you those first three practices of spring. We will have just helmets those first two days, then we'll put on full pads for the third day. We'll play big boy football.

"It's a 15-day allotment. We'll space it out. I've got it down to kind of a science pretty good. We'll practice every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. We meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We give them Sundays off. What it allows you to do I think, it maximizes your days.

"They'll come over and meet for an hour and a half with our coaches, then they'll go into a lifting and conditioning period. Then, on days we practice, we'll come over and giddy up and get right into practice. There's no meetings. It allows you to practice and prepare a little fresher each time.

"This is takes us right to the maximum as far as staying NCAA certified. I really like the way we do it. It helps us play the way we play.

"During the season, if you think about it, you have two heavy work days. You go heavy on Tuesday, Wednesday. Then Thursday is shine and polish. Friday is a walk through, Saturday you play. If you try to do more in a week, players begin to break down. The one thing I learned early in my career, at least the way I like to practice with the physicality, if you try to go heavy Tuesday through Saturday, you are just going to start to fall apart."

It will be a learning experience for Bielema this spring. He's seen video, but he wants to see them work.

"I'm excited because we've got more than 20 seniors and there's also a good group from the developmental group, those who were redshirted last year in the defensive line," he said. "There are some other positions, too, that it's going to be fun to see what they are like to work with."

Bielema didn't want to mention names, but he said there might be some position experiments in the spring.

"We are not going to get drastic," he said, "but if you followed my career closely, I take the NFL player development philosophy, we like to put the better players at positions when they are not playing. It doesn't do me any good to have a really good athlete or really good football player sitting to next to me on the sideline. I believe you maximize your best players to get them in the best positions to win.

"We used that in recruiting, too, this year. For instance, we signed a wide receiver, and as we go through, he might be able to play corner. He's very raw. Once he learns that offensive playbook in year two, if we feel he can help us on the field, we'll do that. "I did that a little bit at Kansas State where Terrance Newman was a great player for us. He was a corner and we got him to help us on offense, playing about 15 snaps a game. He changed our season. If you are a good player, you will be on the field. We are not going to have him sitting next to us."

Bielema was asked how he will define success in year one.

"It's a lot like spring ball," he said. "I get this question all the time as a head coach at the start of a season. It's pretty simple. If you can take a daily approach to greatness, if you can take every day for what it's worth and take full advantage of it, at the end of the day collect yourself and figure out where you are and keep moving forward, you'll have success.

"Success is not defined in numbers, it's not defined in an ultimate championship, it's defined to me in the process."

The spring will have several major scrimmages in what Bielema calls "big boy football,' but they may not be as lengthy as the past several years.

"A big scrimmage is probably 80 plays," he said. "We'll have two big scrimmages. One of the things I realized as an experienced head coach is that you don't need these mega rep practices, you just need to be great at what you are doing. "A lot of times, Saturday will be a major focal point scrimmage. We might do a 40-play practice set on the beginning and then go into a full-fledged 40-play scrimmage later. What we have really done is cut down on the injury factors and letting kids play fresh."
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