State of the Hogs: Single(ton) Focus

Jemal Singleton may ask his new Arkansas running backs to try a new drill while asleep. That's some deep thoughts on trying to eliminate fumbles.

Jemal Singleton knew what was coming when he entered the interview room Thursday evening after the fifth Arkansas football practice of spring drills. Bret Bielema's new running backs coach figured there were going to be questions about his string drill.

"It's the hot topic today, isn't it?" Singleton said after the fourth different reporter asked questions about a new drill for the UA backs that includes a football on a string.

Yes, it wasn't a hot potato. It was more like a hot football.

But, it sounds like there won't be any loose footballs if Singleton has his way with the backfield security issues this spring.

The string drill was picked up by Singleton two years ago at a coaching clinic. The graduate of the Air Force Academy is a little sheepish with its origins.

"I have to bite the bullet," he said. "It came from the Naval Academy. I really like it. It's the best way I've found to work on ball security without beating up a player. It does actually simulate getting hit.

"They will get better and better as we work through it this spring. The ball is not going to come loose. We tried it last year at Oklahoma State. I will never forget what our players told me during our bowl practices when we worked on it. They said, 'Coach, remember how many times the ball came loose the first time we did this drill?' It did not come loose one time that day."

Singleton has a new definition of fumble, as revealed by Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema. It's anytime you don't hand the ball back to the official at the end of the play. Bielema said Singleton charted 49 times in the first practice when the ball either came loose on a handoff, there was a juggle or the ball didn't go back to a manager at the end of the play.

"When you say 49 times, that's really not fumbles," he said. "We really haven't had a fumble yet, but we haven't tackled to the ground yet. That will come in the scrimmage on Saturday. That will be our first test.

"Those 49 times on the chart, a lot of it was just the wrong position with the football. Maybe there was some daylight where I thought the ball was at wrist. It's a misleading number. A lot of times, I just didn't like the position.

"I told them I want the ball position perfect. I want it to be so perfect that they could go to sleep at night with the ball tucked under their arm, no loose wrist, pinned to their shoulder and when they wake up it's still there. I really don't know if that would ever be possible. I don't think anyone has ever done that, but I want them to feel like they could do that."

As they say at the Naval Academy, loose footballs sink ships. Jemal Singleton isn't ready to go there yet, but if the Hogs can sleep without fumbling, maybe he might.

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