Bielema: Exciting First Day

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was "excited" after his first units displayed "great recall" in the first practice of fall drills Monday.

First days don't tell the story. Bret Bielema said the "challenge" comes in practices 15 through 20, but the opening day of fall camp left the new Arkansas coach "very excited."

That's the overview, but the big news out of fall camp came when Bielema revealed that sophomore wide receiver Mekale McKay was exploring transfer options. McKay was not part of the 105 invited to camp.

Bielema met with McKay about one week ago when he learned the 6-6 wideout was unhappy. The coach said a "formal release" had not been granted but that he wanted to work with McKay "as best we can." Bielema said it's part of the "transition" from one coaching system to another.

"Some go full speed," Bielema said. "Some are not so sure. He expressed that."

Bielema said all players in the incoming signing class are on campus, but final clearance from the NCAA might not be until Wednesday on wide receiver Melvinson Hartfield.

"We've got the all clear, but not official clearance from the NCAA," Bielema said. "We should have that Wednesday."

Bielema said the first practice was "injury free." Among the lead questions answered by the coach, there was praise for starting quarterback Brandon Allen.

"He had a nice day," Bielema said of the sophomore signal caller. "His confidence continues to grow. I think his leadership showed up today. I noticed it when I stuck my head into the huddle."

Bielema noted there was no coaches around for summer 7-on-7, but he had gotten feedback on Allen's ability to lead on the plane trip to SEC media days from senior leaders Travis Swanson and Kiero Small. On Monday's workout, Bielema said Allen sparkled in passing drills.

"He threw some nice balls," Bielema said. "The wideouts made some nice catches on some out routes."

On the specifics of practice, Bielema said it was a day in shorts and helmets with installation of the punt packages.

"I'm very excited," he said. "It was injury free. There was great recall with our first units, offense and defense.

"On average, teams around the country are going to get 25 to 30 practices before the first game. We have 28 or 29 scheduled. I thought we won today.

"But the challenge is not today. It's practice 15 to 20."

Bielema said he had a "simple goal" to players afterwards for fall camp.

"It was to take care of yourself," he said. "It's a simple goal, simply to be in better shape -- eat right, hydrate, get the proper rest and recover. Do what it takes whether that means getting in the cold tub and recover."

The team has prepared well under strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert and staff. Bielema notices a lean, strong team. He said others who visited the team during the spring and see them now notice, too.

"A couple of visitors commented to me how different this team looks from last spring," Bielema said. "Our players feel it, too. Our kids are confident and have a swagger. I couldn't be happier with how they look."

The Hogs will practice in shorts and helmets again Tuesday, don half pads Wednesday and Thursday and will have their first full day of pads on Friday. Two practices are scheduled Saturday when the afternoon drill will be a scrimmage at 3 p.m. Bielema announced that practices the first week would be closed two weeks ago.

Bielema liked what he saw of the freshman, including a session with just newcomers and a few redshirts (to fill out gaps in the lineup) at the end of the workout.

"It was an enjoyable end to the day with the freshman," he said. "We can't be around (in summer conditioning) so it was our first time with them, but they had been coached very well by the seniors. We had challenged the seniors to help them for the summer before we brought them in.

"So we had 14 scripted plays with them at the end. All the guys were outstanding."

Bielema noted that freshman quarterback Damon Mitchell was out by then with a shoe problem.

"A couple of the freshman receivers showed up and (running back) Alex Collins is very talented," said Bielema, who also mentioned "a nice little aggressive play" by offensive tackle Dan Skipper.

"Brooks Ellis is impressive and so is D. J. Dean," Bielema said, also confirming that safety Alex Alex Brignoni is cleared for practice but has a "lingering injury."

One of the questions concerned the way offensive tackle Grady Ollison -- now close to 305 pounds -- carried the extra weight after practicing in the spring at under 275.

"He looks like a different human being," he said. "I like the way he comes off blocks. We did some combo blocks and you could see his power. I like what I see of his demeanor. You knew he was a good athlete from before, but he looks very good."

The team reported Sunday, but Bielema said there were no football discussions (per NCAA rules) until Monday. The first day concerned NCAA rules and visits with the equipment manager, training staff on rules pertaining to those departments.

"We talked about ESPN, I mean the NCAA and how quickly things could come up," Bielema said. "We went over drug testing, compliance. It was an exhausting day of meetings, but I can use one word about the day and say our players were engaged."

Bielema said the squad is under the NCAA restrictions of 85 scholarships "by three to five" and that will allow him to place more walk-ons on scholarship. He said that would be addressed later and there were no hints.

That will increase the lure of what he hopes to build at Arkansas, a great walk-on program.

"In think you have the potential for that in Arkansas," he said. "I think we have some players here in our state with three things that it takes -- and I call it undersized, under recruited and under developed. We have some advantages with some border states, too."

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