Even though he had a few of his biggest stars missing due to injury, Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema walked away from his team's 107-play scrimmage Saturday with a big smile on his face.
It was actually the second time the Razorbacks had taken the field on Saturday.
"First and foremost, I couldn't be more excited," Bielema said. "We actually had a very good practice this morning when we went out in helmets and spiders and a had lot of concentration on the special teams with almost 10 full minutes on every phase of the kicking game – punt, kickoff coverage, punt return and kick return. A lot of unique areas and you never know how guys are going to react to their first double day.
"We gave them some time in the afternoon to go sit back and relax and I thought they really came out strong," Bielema said. "I really believe a lot of times if you are able to play injury-free and do certain things because guys are playing extrememly hard- and that is what was going on out there."
Arkansas was without senior center Travis Swanson, senior fullback Kiero Small, senior defensive tackle Byran Jones as well as wideout Keon Hatcher and safety Rohan Gaines.
All expect Gaines – who could out up to a week – are expected to be back to practice on Monday.
"Travis wanted to go today and I think wanted to fight me and Coach Pittman to get out there," Bielema said. "He practiced this morning, but we just thought it good for us to get some quality reps with our number two and number three centers. Travis will be back full go on Monday.
"Couple of other guys – Kiero basically got stepped on and had a bruise on his foot, but should be good to go as well as Keon Hatcher," Bielema added. "...Defensively it was a little slow going because we were missing a couple of key guys with Rohan Gaines, who landed on his knee and had a little bruising and a little swelling. Everything is okay and checked out with MRIs and all that jazz. We think he will be back anywhere from two to three days to a week – which is a blessing in disguise for us to get a lot of quality reps with our backup safeties."
First-team quarterback Brandon Allen certainly solidified his spot with a sizzling 16-of-17 passing performance for 204 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
That included a 47-yard touchdown pass to Javontee Herndon, who made a great catch over cornerback Carroll Washington.
Senior Zach Hocker drilled a 57-yard field goal and he and newcomer Sam Irwin Hill both punted well in a scrimmage that at one point had music blaring over the loud speakers.
"Brandon continues to impress me with certain throws, his composure, his demeanor – just everything that he brings to the table," Bielema said....Hocker kicked the ball really well in the punt game and you see Sam has a live leg as well. His best kicks are going to come with a little different style than that but I am very pleased with him at this point.
"Overall I liked what went on," Bielema added. "We had some penalties we need to clean up. I put the music on at the end to simulate some crowd noise and make the guys communicate effectively."
Bielema noted that Allen has been very accurate in preseason camp so far and he was pleased to see him coaching true freshman Damon Mitchell and his younger brother Austin Allen as they took snaps late in the scrimmage.
"I would say after the first week back from spring break to where we are now every day seems to go forward," Bielema said. "We talk about winning each day and every day he is having success. And he is in there at the end coaching his brother and Duwop (Mitchell). Those guys have got some skills. It's fun to watch."
Bielema stressed in his press conference that he expects to play as many as 10 true freshmen this season.
Those include tailback Alex Collins (12 carries for 40 yards in the scrimmage), offensive lineman Dan Skipper, Denver Kirkland and Reeve Koehler, tight end Hunter Henry, wideout Drew Morgan, cornerback D.J. Dean and linebacker Brooks Ellis.
"The two tackles (Kirkland and Skipper) for sure are going to be in the 2-deep," Bielema said. "Hunter Henry for sure for sure. He's a guy that has got to be in our game plan, extremely gifted, and the greatest thing about Hunter Henry is it's only beginning to scratch the surface. An incredibly intelligent young man, the sky is the limit.
"At wide receiver, Drew Morgan and at running Alex Collins," Bielema added. "At quarterback Austin Allen and Duwop, I think both of those quarterbacks have a chance to be in our 3-deep and then on defense for sure Brooks Ellis is a guy we are very happy with and pleased with to see where he's at. He's one of our top six to seven best linebackers and on the back end D.J. Dean is extremely gifted and excited to see where he can go."
Collins – the heralded five-star recruit from Miami, probably drew the biggest cheers of the day on a couple of his early runs.
His only mistake on the day was trying to reverse his field against Arkansas' defense, which made him pay for it.
"As you can tell, Alex Collins is a very gifted football player," Bielema said. "I knew he was going to try to reverse the field and our guys tomahawked him down and I just said, 'We are not at South Plantation (High School) anymore.' Everybody is fast out there.
"That was probably a good thing it didn't go anywhere because if it went for big yardage he probably could do it every play," Bielema said. "He's got to learn to get the yards he can get and be happy with it. I thought he was good in ball security and in general all the guys with the ball in their hands did a good job of ball security which is the No. 1 priority."
Bielema noted that Collins had headaches earlier this week, but that problem was quickly pinpointed.
"If anything jumps out to me as a head coach, is that as a coach you need to know your players' strengths and weaknesses," Bielema said. "And obviously Alex's strengths are that he's a very, very gifted individual. He's been blessed with very, very good skills.
"The thing I hit him up, there was a day on Tuesday where he had headaches," Bielema added. "So I called people back home and they said, well, if he's having headaches, it's usually because he's not eating. Lo and behold, he skipped two days of breakfast. So we had it marked down, so now he had someone that sits down and watches him eat breakfast. He just hasn't had to do that before. He's always been so much more blessed than everybody else and that much more physical.
"And I said, 'Now everybody's good buddy,'" Bielema said. "So he had breakfast the last two days and he's playing extremely well. Sometimes it can be as easy as that. I think that's the great thing about football, everybody thinks it's this complex thing. If you just take care of yourself and put the proper fuel in, usually you get good results. I think he's got to understand the bigger picture. What you did in high school isn't going to work in college. You've got to make a change in order to change the level you're playing at."
Bielema was very pleased with what his first offensive line did – especially minus Swanson.
"Any time you lose your starting center and have the composure that our one offense did in the run game, I was very excited," Bielema said. "(Tackle) Grady Ollison in particular, he was blocking Chris Smith and there was a little off guard play where this is a back on the backer and it was a short-yardage play blocked perfectly and I thought that made a big statement to me.
"(Guard) Brey Cook is playing very, very well," Bielema noted. "I thought (guard Mitch) Smothers did some good things. (Tackle David) Hurd is a guy you never notice and at the left tackle position that's a good thing. If they are not writing stories about your left tackle that's a very good thing."
Skipper and Kirkland were both working with the second-team offensive line in the scrimmage.
"I think Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland have a lot of upside and that allowed us to move some of our tackles inside," Bielema said.
Former offensive lineman Jeremy Ward may have found a new home at defensive tackle.
"Jeremy is a guy that played offensive line and we talked coming into the fall about trying him a little at D-tackle," Bielema said. "We said today, 'Let's get him in there with the threes.' He knew the snap count which is why (offensive coordinator) Coach (Jim) Chaney called that little play there to make him jump offsides."
Overall, Bielema was pleased with what his team – which will take off Sunday and have media day – was able to get done during the first week of practice.
"It was a huge week," Bielema said. "We stayed on track with our install. We did two-minute this morning in the morning session. I thought about doing a session of it there at the end, but I thought our guys were taxed. I wanted to get 40-plus plays … To get out of that scrimmage healthy and have everybody upbeat was great...I couldn't be happier with their football IQ growth."
Grady Ollison has filled out his jersey after gaining to 304 in the summer.
Bret Bielema was pleased with both the morning practice and the scrimmage Saturday.
Alex Collins was sharp on his cuts in his 12 carries.
Collins displayed a patient running style and the ability to move his feet after contact.
Photos by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated
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