State of the Hogs: Double Days

Why would Bret Bielema skip a few August practices allowed by the NCAA? The Arkansas coach pointed to Tevin Mitchel as an example of why double days are no longer needed.

No two-a-days at Arkansas this August? That just doesn't seem right to some old timers. Two-a-days was often where teams were “made” in the minds of most with the right football pedigrees.

So when Bret Bielema announced Tuesday that his third Arkansas team had worked so hard this summer it became clear that those “double day” workouts that some used to put their teams into the proper mental and physical state for the season were no longer needed.

I get that, as the Arkansas coach often repeats. Summer workouts get the modern day teams in shape. Once a day is about right, if it's done correctly. Bielema said the trend has been to reduce double days of late. Even the NCAA has taken it to just seven days allowed with two practices. He reduced it to five in recent years.

And, he doesn't practice his team every day in August. Sunday is a day of physical rest, but meetings are still held.

“That goes back to the way I was raised, Sunday was a day of rest and that was a conscious decision I made as a coach not to work on Sundays in August,” Bielema told a group of advertisers with NWA Media on Wednesday.

There were mentions of a coach who once put a team through triple days. That would be a nightmare to try to sell to a recruit.

“And there was one time where we were on the field from 7 in the morning until 7 at night,” he said. “We got a break with a sack lunch. I get that, it was about establishing mental toughness for the season.

“But our team doesn't need that. They are much more established physically.”

He said it was a case of not wanting extended practice time against themselves. He said everyone notes that Arkansas is among the nation's most physical teams.

“Our roster is very physical, just in everything we do, at the very core of what we are,” he said. “Why make us play against ourselves, a more physical group than what we are going to play against.”

Bielema said there is an asterisk with his promise of no double days.

“If they don't practice the way I want, that's over,” he said.

There will be long practices, just not double days.

“We'll have the kicking periods at the end,” he said. “We'll have the 15 minutes of special teams and also use the time for extra film session. And, we'll have the guys not getting as many reps stay and get some extra.”

The correlation between more double days and better play on the field has never been there for Bielema.

“I look back at our best teams, they are often the ones we cut back on double days,” he said. “I've never used them all. I care what the NCAA thinks, but I don't think I have to use all the day they give us, just like practicing on Sunday. I never have done that.”

Bielema pointed to cornerback Tevin Mitchel's improved play last year. He called it “one for the memory banks” after a big jump in performance last year. It also is something to sell to recruits -- that less could mean better.

“He missed the five double days because we never ask someone coming back from shoulder surgery to practice twice,” he said. “He'd been inconsistent as a junior and then made one of the best turnarounds. He went from not being a prospect for any kind of pro level – NFL or Canada – to now it looks like he'll make the roster with the Redskins.

“So he had no double days and also missed time with a hamstring. It didn't bother him at all.”

Bielema remembers when he started as a head coach with no real regulations from the NCAA.

“Ten years ago, you could practice as many times as you wanted,” he said. “Gradually, they have taken days away. Now, you have to have five days of once-a-day practice, then you can have a double day, followed by a single day. So now it's gone from 15 days of possible double days to five.”

In the old days, teams were not on campus for the summer. They went home and worked in the fields or on construction sites. Bielema said August two-a-days were needed to get players into shape. Not so any more since every top school has summer conditioning programs and practice.

It's been fun to watch the players adapt to all aspects of Bielema's program. He said the culture allows for the reduction in double days.

“It's like I had growing up,” he said. “We did things (on the farm) before we were asked. Our players know the culture. And, the older players teach the young ones.

“I remember when we did everything right (on the farm), we got to play golf. I was reminded of that last week when I played golf with my father and my brothers in a foursome. It was like we had growing up. We got to play golf on Saturday and got to drink a pop for doing everything right. We were rewarded.

“We've got the majority of our players doing it right now. We don't have to tell them. They just do it. I talked about that recently, and someone told me, that's called raising a child. I haven't raised kids, but I've got 119 from different homes – and two from one. They are from all over the globe, but they do things the same in our culture.”

That buy-in to culture was obvious to Bielema when he sent the three players selected for SEC Media Days to buy new suits.

“The NCAA allows it and we kinda decided to get a bargain and send them to a place where you get two-for-one,” Bielema said. “I sent our media relations guy, Brett Brecheisen, with them.”

When Brandon Allen, Keon Hatcher and Jonathan Williams were done shopping, they had matching outfits. It stunned Bielema.

“This is a day when everyone wants to stand out, wear an ear ring, buy something flashy,” he said. “Brett calls me and says he's never seen anything like it. They bought the same suit, the same shoes, the same belt. They were going to look exactly alike.

“Brett said, 'Coach, this is really cool. They wanted to look the same.' When something like that happens, it's when you know you have something.”

It's also another reason Bret Bielema didn't think the 2015 Razorbacks needed double days.

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