State of Hogs: Chomping at the Bit

Bret Bielema used pro day as a media opportunity to preview spring drills and provide an update on offseason workouts. Travis Swanson used it prove he knows the countdown to his wedding.

It's clear that I know how to work a stop watch, but I tried Wednesday at pro day for the Arkansas football team. It took me a few tries to get it down on the 40-yard dash on the dozen athletes. For instance, I got Austin Tate in 4.5.

Yes, I know Tate, a lumbering tight end, can't run anything below 5.0 and so I scrapped all of my times. I laughed hard at myself when I got wide receiver Javontee Herndon in 4.3. I didn't figure he could do that any more than Tate could hit 4.5.

Except maybe Herndon can. He did better than 4.4 on a bank of stop watches around me. I showed my watch to Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.

"No, you are the same as everyone else," Bielema said. "He just clicked off a good one."

The official time the scouts used for Herndon was 4.47, throwing out the scattered times just under 4.4, and a few slower. That's still a fine time on the slow field turf that was used in the middle of Walker Pavilion. Times on that surface are much slower than the lightning quick rubber track surface under one wing of the indoor facility that have been used in the past on pro day. Herndon had the fastest time of the day.

Bielema noted that the pro scouts were excited and wanted to see Herndon do it again. It was close enough that the Cleveland scout took Herndon upstairs, away from the media, after the workout was done. OK, maybe Herndon helped himself.

"I think he did," Bielema said later. "Javontee ran really well. I was excited to see what Javontee and Julian (Horton) did today."

Horton was in the low 4.5s on his runs and seemed to get second looks from the scouts scattered around Walker Pavilion to watch New England's Ryan Mallett put them through their paces in the route running drills. It's the third time Mallett has done a pro day in Walker Pavilion since he finished his sparkling Arkansas career.

Fullback Kiero Small seemed appreciative of Mallett's help as he looked at his sore hands after the workout.

"Them things got some steam on them," Small said of Mallett's lasers. "You've got to show your hands, whether you can catch or not with them balls."

Bielema said there probably wasn't a lot to see of the top NFL prospect in the Arkansas camp, center Travis Swanson. It's hard to measure offensive linemen in such workouts. But Bielema said to be careful not to sleep on Swanson's chances.

"I think Travis earned a lot of respect at the Senior Bowl," Bielema said. "Everyone I talk to knows he's got a big upside. His best football is in front of him. He played his best football of his college career last year, showing what he could do in the gaps and in pulling situations.

"I think what you are going to hear in the next few weeks, they all are going to say third or fourth round. But there is going to be one team that decides not to wait and takes him really early."

Swanson doesn't seem concerned. He's got more important things to make him nervous, a wedding in 17 days. With his fiance waiting close by, he made sure to answer questions correctly. He noted he'll prepare for the draft in Fayetteville.

"Just stay here," he said. "I'm here till the draft. Work out with (UA strength coach) Ben Herbert. I'm going to get married in about 17, (he asks his fiancé over the crowd), yeah 17 days. So I've got that on my plate. Just stay in shape and wait till May."

Does the draft or the wedding worry him the most?

"I'd say at this point the wedding," Swanson said. "I'm going to keep to the safe answer on that one."

Bielema was treading cautiously, too. He was asked again about the proposal – tabled just minutes later – that was before the rules committee that would have caused a 10-second wait before the snap.

"I can't comment," he said. "I learned to leave that alone."

Bielema didn't object to questions about spring drills, set to start March 16 on Selection Sunday. He said the first two workouts would be closed.

"I like to close those because they aren't in full pads," Bielema said, noting that the other 13 days of spring drills would be open to the media. All of the Saturday scrimmages will be open to the fans, as long as they are in the stadium. Bad weather could push them in Walker Pavilion where there is no space for fans.

"I always hate to watch those two days without pads anyway. We just decide to close them. But starting with the Thursday workout, they'll be open. The rest of the spring, we won't close."

Bielema said the offseason workouts have about concluded. It's been tough because of bad weather.

"If school is closed, we can't conduct workouts," he said. "And there have been some days that school has been closed in the morning, or until noon.

"We did get a lot done. The NCAA has let us have more meeting time and we've used that to get on the same page as far as what we are going to do on defense, learn the same lingo."

It's helped the secondary become familiar with new assistants Robb Smith, the coordinator, and Clay Jennings, who will combine with Smith to coach corners and safeties.

"I think we have some players in the secondary, at corner, that have some ability," Bielema said. "I think it's a chance to learn through different eyes. I think Coach Smith has brought some confidence to the guys back there, on defense. They have a new swagger. He's really made things simple for them."

Bielema, who said his team is "chomping at the bit" for spring drills, does like the progress in the offseason program, but he did have any eye popping 40 times for the media. He doesn't time players in testing.

"We do some things testing, but not 40s," he said. "I don't believe in that. We don't have to know a guy can run a 4.4 in the 40 to know he can play corner. Ever since I was a head coach, I haven't done that. Herb and I are on the same page there."

There has been physical development. The team is faster and bigger, Bielema said.

"We've got a lot of guys who continue to add strength and size," he said. "We had gains last year and more growth this year. Trey Flowers has added 15 and is over 280. Darius Philon, Brandon Lewis, Martrell Spaight, Brooks Ellis, all of those are 15 bigger, and I like the flavor of what Coach Jennings has brought to our corners."

There was some news from the head coach. The debate on where Korliss Marshall will play is over for the moment. He'll practice at running back in the spring after playing exclusively there in the fall as a true freshman, but practicing at safety during the open dates.

Tight end Mitchell Loewen has undergone ACL knee surgery after sustaining an injury in January. Bielema is hopeful Loewen is back for the opener, but he'll miss spring.

Redshirt freshman Alex Brignoni, who had hip surgery in the fall, will practice at linebacker in the spring. He's been cleared for practice.

Bielema said the Hogs had some competition Wednesday morning with some matchups drawn up by the head coach and strength coach.

"We can't do anything with a football and we can't do anything that's football related," Bielema said. "But we still have things we can do that bring out competition.

"So we made it offense versus defense and Coach Herb and I made the draws. We had Korliss going against (Rohan) Gaines. It was high intensity, four stations, through the bags."

One of the matchups was quarterback Brandon Allen versus safety Alan Turner, a battle won by the offense.

Concerning the quarterback competition, Bielema said it would be an open battle, but he noted that a returning starter like Allen would have an advantage.

"To have a whole year (of experience) is such an advantage," Bielema said. "That's the case especially at quarterback. That's what separates you."

Regarding Allen's offseason development, Bielema said, "He looks different. He's put on weight. He looks confident, has a swagger."

Bielema said among the bright spots in the offseason workouts has been mid-term arrival Jared Cornelius, a 6-1, 190-pounder from Shreveport.

"He's a freshman who has turned everyone's eyes," Bielema said. "Jonathan Williams looks unbelievable at running back. He's 220 plus."

Williams returns as the junior starter. Bielema said he'd hold him out in many situations in the spring.

"We'll get a lot of work for Alex Collins, Korliss Marshall, Denzel Evans and Kody Walker," Bielema said. "We are going to get Kody some work at tailback and fullback like we did for Kiero last year."

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