Kicking It Off

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and his players got a chance to mix with the fans at the fifth annual Kickoff Luncheon on Friday with Bielema clearly ready to deliver the best team he can this season.

SPRINGDALE - New Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema was careful not to throw out a projected win total for his 2013 Razorback squad at Friday's 2013 Kickoff Luncheon, but did have a promise for the soldout crowd.

"I think I have talked at over 70 of this events now and everybody wonders 'Coach, how are we going to be football-wise?,'" Bielema related. "You give the answer with certain things – offense, defense, special teams.

"Here is why I know that we will have success," Bielema added. "It is because of the guys sitting at your tables. These guys have been through a lot. They have been through things on their recruiting trips that no one talked to them about. No one talked about how they were going to have transition. No ine told them about the adversity they were going to have to rise through that didn't have anything to do with them on the field. All they had to do was live it.

"...For the most part, the guys that are sitting at your table have carried themselves in a championship manner so far beyond the normal measures in society that give me a great indication that once we do get to playing football that everything is going to be alright," Bielema continued.

Bielema also stressed that every player had moved forward since his arrival.

"I guarantee you this – there isn't one person who is going to go out to practice this afternoon that has gotten worse since we've been here," Bielema said. "Everybody has continued to take steps forward. Some guys have taken huge steps forward."

He talked about how he had indirectly learned some coaching tenants from former Arkansas head coach and athletic director Frank Broyles, who was in attendance at the luncheon along with former Razorback coach Ken Hatfield.

"Little did I know there would be so many connections," Bielema said. "...To know the guy that I learned football from (former Iowa head coach) – a guy named Hayden Fry – well, all of the things I thought Coach Fry was teaching me were things that Coach Broyles had already taught Coach Fry when he was a young coach. To have that come full circle is great. Ken Hatfield also touched the life of a guy who was a direct influence on my life."

Bielema talked about how he wants more student involvement at the games and has some new things he will bring on board for home games.

"One of the things we are trying to do as a staff is to encourage our players to make a special appeal to our student section and let them know how much we appreciate them coming to our games," Bielema said. "Also to the fans in the stadium overall, we are going to ask you to get engaged. I know it is a very passionate place and everybody feels really good about it, but I think we can take this to a whole nother level.

"I told our players that you have the ability to effect a University," Bielema added. "If we win some games and continue to do the things that I think we have shown without the course of time – academically, athletically and socially, you are going to get the University to effect a state and when you get a state that is very, very proud of what is going on, the sky is the limit.

"You are a very proud nation already," Bielema contined. "Everywhere I go, I have been calling it Razorback Red Bull. Everybody drinks it from 7 a.m to midnight. I don't know where they are selling it, but it is everywhere.

"I know things haven't been the greatest in the area that we're concerned with, but if we get it that much better then look out the sky is the limit," Bielema stressed. "And I am going to enjoy every minute of it."

Bielema hit on how positions were shaping up on his team.

"This team offensively has continued to grow on a daily basis," Bielema said. "We are going to be starting a new quarterback in Brandon Allen. Brandon has done a tremendous job since the third week of December to get better. Our offensive line is probably the most improved group across the board starting with our center Travis Swanson and (David) Hurd our left tackle – two seniors who are going to do a tremendous job.

"We have a variety of other players who have filled in and done some special things in development," Bielema said. "We have a great group of tight ends even though unfortuantely Austin Tate – our senior tight end - is going to be gone for a couple of weeks, but his leadership has helped the other guys." He touched on a number of tailbacks and noted they have a security blanket in front of them in senior fullback Kiero Small.

"For all the running backs, they have a guy in front of them that is a team captain in Kiero Small," Bielema said. "I have been around a lot of great fullbacks and I think by the end of the year he may be the best fullback in the world of college football. That's my goal and something I think he can achieve and I think he is driven to do it."

He stressed he does plan to run the ball, but not just run the ball.

"I look forward to seeing the ball being run a little bit, but we do throw the football," Bielema said. "Everybody thinks we are just going to be this five yards and a cloud of dust, but at Wisconsin we were very balanced. We rushed for 200 and we threw for 200. Running the ball makes it easier to throw the ball."

He believes that his defense will be bolstered by its front group.

"Defensively we will be anchored by a strong defensive line," Bielema said. "Three of our front four are seniors. I think the fact that we have two seniors inside in Byran Jones and Robert Thomas that have played a lot of football are going to be great inspiration for us on the edges. We have great defensive ends and I think we have a number of guys pushing for back up positions.

"The linebackers are kind of the Bad News Bears in that no one has ever heard of any of them, but they are a group that has a lot of pride and lot of guys that are rising up to the challenge and playing good defense for us," Bielema added.

There have been concerns about the secondary the last few years.

"In the back end, we will be anchored by our safeties inside out," Bielema said. "I think Eric Bennett and Rohan Gaines have had a really good spring and fall and guys are coming on behind them in TQ (Coleman).

"At corner we have had three or four guys that have done good things in the past and they are going to continue to get stronger," Bielema added.

It was noted during the luncheon that Arkansas' top-rated player on the 2013 NCAA College Football video game.

"I think the reason that Zach Hocker has the highest ranking on NCAA Football is that he is holding the starting job in three different positions – field goal kicker, punter and our kickoff expert as well," Bielema said. "He has had a strong leg all camp."

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