State of the Hogs: New Technique, Attitude

It's become clear, physical and powerful are the two most used words around Bret Bielema's team in the spring of 2013. It doesn't matter if you are talking about linemen, receivers are anyone else. But, the pass is still going to be a viable option.

If you don't hear the word physicality when around Arkansas football players, then you probably aren't listening or reading any reports on Bret Bielema's first spring in the Ozarks.

Frank Broyles stressed the dos and don'ts of the kicking game to anyone who would listen. Darrell Royal preached all the bad things (and only one good) that could happen when a pass was called.

I do think it was ironic Royal was labeled quite the gambler after fourth-down passes led the Longhorns to the national title in the 1969 Shootout and in the following game against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl for a national title.

Royal always said his comments about the passing game "were said two thirds in jest." That's interesting since only one third of his results on the pass were good.

Bielema isn't saying anything bad about the passing game. Quite the contrary, he wants balance between the run and pass and many of his Wisconsin teams were good at both.

I can't help but remember Arkansas shutting down the Badgers on the ground in the 2007 Capital One Bowl, Bielema's first year as head coach.

The Hogs gave up something to stop the run. They pulled a player in the back seven to insert an extra defensive linemen. Jamaal Anderson, Ernest Mitchell, Keith Jackson, Antwain Robinson and Michael Sheppard all started up front.

Arkansas held Wisconsin to minus 5 yards rushing, while making 232 on the ground. But the Badgers passed for 206 on 14 of 34 pass attempts. The Hogs made 136 on 32 pass attempts. Bielema's team passed for two touchdowns, Arkansas none.

Wisconsin won it with the pass.

With five spring practices left, new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said Tuesday it may be three or four games into the season before the passing game clicks. He said the changes he made in scheme, routes and terminology means the passing game is still in its infancy.

I get it. It's an implementation dip. I heard that once from one of my daughters, a school teacher. When new educational systems are brought in by he experts, teachers are told to expect setbacks.

That's not to say the Hogs aren't making progress. Center Travis Swanson said the new physical emphasis is showing up. No matter what position you play, power and physical attitude are preached, emphasized and ultimately developed.

"I think you can see it," Swanson said. "I've learned a lot. I think the grey area is closing each day. I think it's a visual game for most and it just takes time to see it all.

"We are learning a new scheme in pass protection. We are learning a different system. It's a lot about footwork and technique. That just takes time."

In a nutshell, Swanson calls it a more physical style. He said that's what he's learning most from offensive line coach Sam Pittman.

"It's about learning to be a more powerful football player," Swanson said. "You have to be powerful in how you run, how you step. That's how you knock someone off the ball."

Pittman said there are some issues with the old technique.

"We changed our arm swing, our steps, leverage points and how to lift into a block," Pittman said. "We want our arms inside. Our guys were used to swinging their arms behind them. They have to be in front of their pads, tight to their chest and then explode. And we are learning to do that with speed."

It's just a different culture. Wide receivers are learning to be more physical at the point of attack.

"We've still got a long way to go, but we are becoming more physical in our blocking," said Michael Smith, wideout coach. "It's just a process and we are only 10 days into it.

"What I see right now, we know how to practice. They have that part, working hard. But the physical part at the point of attack, that's a work in progress. That's the adjustment to being more physical."

And there is complexity to the passing game and new details to be stressed there, too.

"We are trying to get to where we are explosive in the passing game," Smith said. "Some of that has to do with my guys, making plays after the catch or getting open on the deep ball. Those are the plays that win close games. We know that's how you win, get those explosive plays."

And, just in case you weren't reading, it's about being physical in the process.

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