Arkansas turned to freshmen and transfers in a hurry in Bret Bielema's first season. After the first day of practice in his second season, the Razorbacks' head coach thinks there could be as many new faces on the field again.
Bielema met with the media after Monday's practice, the first of fall camp. He said the standouts among newcomers were plentiful. He mentioned true freshman Frank Ragnow for his work at center along with transfers Cameron Jefferson, Sebastian Tretola and Josh Williams.
Bielema said he's started a true freshman at center before and doesn't rule it out. Junior Mitch Smothers got the snaps with the first team at center, but the 6-6 Ragnow, fast and athletic, got a lot of work snapping with the second and third team.
"Ragnow looked great at center," Bielema said. "He spent the whole day at center and only missed one snap."
There were two snaps missed on the day, with Smothers botching one, too. Luke Charpentier was the third center in the mix on Monday.
Bielema raved about the speed at linebacker and safety among the newcomers, noting Williams looks like the real deal at middle linebacker. That might allow Brooks Ellis to help at outside linebacker if it becomes necessary. But it could be that there are some new faces there, too, with the speedy Dwayne Eugene, Frank Ramsey and Khalia Hackett. Bielema likes the speed at safety with the arrival of Santos Ramirez and Josh Liddell.
"Those three freshmen linebackers can really run," Bielema said. "Liddel, Ramirez and (Cornelius) Floyd can really run, too. It's like last year when Martrell Spaight really stood out at linebacker with the way he could run. This time, there are three who run like that."
The offensive line stands out without having to do a thing, according to the head coach. But they can run, too.
"It's fun to just look at that group when they come onto the field," Bielema said. "We are beginning to look like an offensive line. They look like they can play our style of football up front."
Tretola, like UNLV transfer Jefferson, just arrived this weekend. He may have to work his way into shape.
"Tretola is a little heavy," Bielema said. "But, both Sebastian and Cameron are both engaged every play. You notice them in Sam (Pittman's) room, the big uglies. Cameron is every bit of 6-6 and he's 305, but he looks like 275.
"I think we've got a lot of guys who are going to help us and in a big way. I know Cameron Jefferson is going to help in a big way."
It's another nice class. Bielema was asked how he'd compare this class to the 2013 newcomers, a large number of whom played early.
"Definitely, the number will be similar (who play), if not more," he said. "We'll have some in the kicking game. Obviously, Cole Hedlund is battling John Henson (at kicker). Then, we have Tyler Colquitt at fullback, Frank Ragnow, Brian Wallace and Sebastian Tretola in the offensive line, Jared Cornelius and JoJo Robinson at wide receiver, Bijohn Jackson and Armon Watts in the defensive line, all three of those linebackers, the two safeties and there are some more maybe."
Colquitt was given a scholarship this summer after arriving on campus as a walk-on. He is battling Kody Walker at fullback.
Bielema loves what he sees from his team from the summer with strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert.
"We got faster," he said."Some of it is through recruiting and some of it was from Coach Herbert."
Among the fastest is running back Korliss Marshall. Bielema said he sparkled with a cut through a hole at full speed.
"He put his foot in the ground and accelerated though the hole," Bielema said. "It's amazing to see."
One of the battles in the fall will be for the backup quarterback slot behind Brandon Allen. Who looked good there on Monday?
"That's a good question," Bielema said. "Austin (Allen) has taken a step this summer. It was exciting to watch him. He has a better understanding of the offense. Some of his older brother has rubbed off on him.
"Rafe (Peavey) certainly didn't disappoint. He's about pleasing you and we have to get him to understand that he's going to make some mistakes and not to let that bother him. He can work through them. He's got a live arm. He could have a really big month."
A.J. Derby, converted from quarterback to tight end in the spring, did not take snaps on Monday, but still might later this spring.
"We'll want to keep his hand in it," Bielema said, but noted he's busy battling returning starter Hunter Henry at tight end right now.
"A.J. made a couple of circus catches today," Bielema said. "Hunter was very effective, but did have one drop. Coach (Barry) Lunney is a Christian man, but he did let Hunter have it."
Bielema said the Hogs will concentrate on keeping it simple the rest of the week to make it easier on the large number of newcomers with a chance to play.
"There are some installs," he said. "But we want to find out who can play football. I told our coaches to make sure not to overload too much on them this week. We want to come out of Saturday with a clear idea about who can play the game of football."
The Hogs will practice without shoulder and leg pads again on Tuesday, add shoulder pads on Wednesday, then full pads on Thursday. A full scrimmage is planned on Saturday. Bielema said it would be open to the media, but he has not made a decision on whether it will be open to the public or not.
The team begins camp with relative good health. Mitchell Loewen, who played tight end last year, will begin camp at defensive end. He's recovering from winter knee surgery and does not have full clearance. Cornerback Tevin Mitchel is coming off spring shoulder surgery. Mitchel worked with the first team -- along with Jared Collins, Carroll Washington and DJ Dean -- but wore a non-contact green jersey.
Bielema said there would be some practices at night next week where the freshmen and newcomers get the final three periods after kicking game was covered in the first three. They elected not to bring newcomers in early to go longer in the first week.
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