Bret Bielema: Youngsters Strengths

Bret Bielema knows the Arkansas strengths for the 2014 football season. They start with players like Denver Kirkland, Dan Skipper, Alex Collins and Hunter Henry.

Bret Bielema was asked on statewide radio Thursday to identify strengths for the 2014 Arkansas football team. They have been on campus only a few months.

"It's some of our young guys," Bielema told Bo Mattingly on Sports Talk. "They are guys who played a major roles this year, guys like Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland. Those two freshman offensive linemen changed our culture.

"They taught everyone how to play through the whistle, how to compete and play hard.

"It's also guys like Hunter Henry and Alex Collins. People took notice of Hunter. He's helped us, by what we did with him, to recruit the very best tight ends in the country, bring in more.

"We had six games this year where we went over 200 yards rushing. If you look at 2009 through 2011, there were only four together. We've changed the chemistry what we believe in and we had results. We are not there, but we will be when we get all the right people. Our formula works."

Bielema made it to a bowl in all seven of his seasons as Wisconsin head coach, the last three in the BCS Rose Bowl. So was this his most difficult season?

"You might think it would be easy to say that," he answered, "because of wins and losses. But when you have it rolling, sometimes it's tough to keep guys on edge -- very, very tough when they get to the next challenge.

"But we had a new staff, a new league. We were learning the nuances of a new league. This year, it was not about celebrating wins, that time just after games and into Saturday night. But at the same time, I feel good about the results we had, except that the losing got old."

Are there regrets?

"I think when you look at things, it wouldn't be about the Xs and Os," he said. "It wouldn't be scheme. It would be that we should have done some things sooner, maybe go with some of those freshmen offensive linemen sooner, or Brooks Ellis, at linebacker.

"But I don't want to play anyone before they are ready. Those freshmen linemen were not ready. Brooks was not ready.

"We wanted to play Korliss Marshall sooner, too. But he didn't want it. He kept wanting to play defense.

"I am a big believer that you let kids play where they want to play. He was adamant that he should play safety."

There can be a compromise next year. Marshall likely will play offense, defense and special teams.

"He's going to be a safety and he'll help us," Bielema said. "But we can have a package for him on offense and he'll help on special teams."

Bielema pointed to Marshall as an example of a recruit who didn't have a lot of offers that can play in the SEC. It should be remembered when recruiting junkies study the next few Arkansas class and not all are highly rated.

"We will sign some highly rated kids," Bielema said. "But when you sign someone who only has an offer to UCA, you can still be excited about them, too."

Marhsall will add to the defense an ingredient that was sorely needed, speed.

"The part that jumps out at you as the season went on, our defense needed skill," Bielema said. "That was at both linebacker and all four secondary spots. We didn't have the skill to compete there."

What does he say to the doubters?

"Everybody has got opinions," he said. "Everyone is entitled to think what they want. But I'd say look at the past records, both of myself and of this staff."

What about the strength of the SEC?

"I love it," Bielema said. "I'm driven because of it."

What about those that doubt Brandon Allen's ability to get the job done at quarterback?

"Brandon is a tremendous person," Bielema said. "I don't think everyone understands how little he practiced at some points in the season. Those within the team knew it. He has a tremendous upside. He has shown the ability to lead the huddle and that's important.

"Our team knows what happened to him. They know about his injuries. They saw the three-inch hole in his leg down to the bone and he came right back (after staples)."

Bielema does not worry about perceptions concerning the offensive scheme.

"It might change right before your eyes," he said. "What some might think we are and what we are next year might be different. We might transform."

Speaking of style of play, some say the Hogs won't be able to play the same style as Alabama or LSU. Can you out-Alabama Alabama or LSU?

"It's great for people to talk about that," Bielema said. "I'll just point to that last game with LSU. We were one play away from a huge momentum builder. It definitely shows we can.

"But neither Alabama or LSU are playing in the title game and that's where we want to be. I want to be in that game."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories