Fresh off his team’s third practice of preseason camp in near 100-degree temperature, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema lauded the effort of his staff and his players.
The Razorbacks worked 19 periods outside and then followed that with six inside the Walker Pavilion in a practice that was opened to the media.
“We really have been stressing hydration and recovery and all the things that you need to do in this type of weather and I think our guys really bought into it,” Bielema said. “ I knew when we were coming on to Period 19 - I was counting those periods as much as you guys probably. Our players we have been coming in at the end of those practices and it feels like you are coming into a refrigerator compared to what's going on outside.”
Saturday was the first day that Arkansas had been able to put some pads on although not the full compliment, which they can do on Tuesday for workout five under NCAA rules.
“Today was the first day we were in half pack and for the kind of football we play, it helps us play a cleaner game,” Bielema said. “Really through the first two days, one of the things that impressed me was we ask our kids to concentrate on staying off the ground.
“The game of football is played on your feet, just some kind of athleticism type things and we didn’t have anybody on the ground the first two days that I remember. It has been a long time since I have seen that.
“The kind of caliber of athlete we’ve got, a guy that can run around and do things has really jumped out and today I think you saw that come through a little bit more with the physical elements.”
There were a few unable to go in the half packs with defensive tackle Bijohn Jackson missing an earlier practice to attend his grandmother’s funeral and defensive end Tevin Beanum and offensive lineman Brian Wallace both out Saturday with mild ankle injuries.
Jackson has moved to defensive tackle while true freshman Hjalte Froholdt has taken over at nose guard.
Some of the pleasant surprises through the first three practices have included wide receivers Damon Mitchell and Dominique Reed and true freshman cornerback Ryan Pulley.
Reed is a junior college transfer with blazing speed that is expected to give the team a legitimate deep threat this season.
“Very positive,” Bielema said of Reed’s first three days. “ Everybody was worried about Dominique. Dominique Reed finished the summer with a 3.5 GPA here at Arkansas. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. The academic people I think were just blown away with the way he responded and helped himself in the classroom and that’s carried over to what we’re seeing right now.
“The only difficult day we had with him, he kind of got a little pouty one day and we all kind of reacted with it the same way. You’ve got to be careful. We all kind of reacted. We all want to help him in so many ways. Mike said something, I said something, Dan said something and all of the sudden you’ve got three voices coming at you.
“Really he was just mad because there were too many people telling him what to do. He’s like “ I know what I can do.” He got frustrated, felt like he was being singled out, which I can appreciate. He’s got a tremendous amount of pride.
“He’s got a lot of gifts, man. He catch it, he can run, he can jump. Not really shy much. I thought he might be a little timid but he’s not. He’s an aggressive kid. I think him, (and fellow freshman wideouts) LaMichael Pettway, Deon Stewart, who is small in size but big in stature (can play). He’s just got a great heartbeat and really a set of legs that can run.”
Mitchell is a junior who may finally be poised for a breakout season.
“He had an exceptional camp through day one, day two,” Bielema said. “The guy in front of him stubbed his toe a little bit yesterday. We wanted to give him more opportunities and he took advantage of it pretty good. What’s really neat is he’s just a totally different engaging personality. Kids talk highly of him all the time now.”
Pulley has zoomed up to grab a second-team cornerback spot already in just three practices.
“I call him old man,” Bielema said. “Nothing against older men, he just kind of walks with this gait like he’s 50 years old. Kind of a surprising kid.
“I got on him early in practice there and he kind of didn’t know how to practice the way we wanted him to on the sideline route there. Woke him up a little bit and he made play after play.
“He’s a guy that’s jumped out from day one. When he got here in the summer phrase two – he wasn’t here summer one , he was summer two – the guys commented right away he’s got those long arms, very very aggressive. He’s got a great feel for the ball. Fun kid to be around. I’d be very shocked if he didn’t play a lot of football for us early.”
Bielema basically ruled out any thought of a redshirt for Pulley and noted quite a few newcomers are likely to see action.
“No,” Bielema said. “ I think theres going to be a lot of guys play to be quite honest. I think there’s certain guys you can just see right away instinctively that are very talented players. It’s going to be hard to keep them off the field.”
True freshmen Jamario Bell and Derrick Graham have switched spots with Bell now at outside linebacker and Graham moving from there to defensive end.
“One of the things I love to do is I love to sit back and evaluate talent in front of you,” Bielema said. “It was a no-brainer. You could just watch the guys move. Jamario just moved a little bit more like a linebacker, did certain things. We flipped them.
“Everybody agrees. No slap to Derrick. Derrick went from 232 to 262 in about six weeks. I think that weight is a little bit much for him right now. We’ll trim him down a little bit. We moved him over to D-end. WE do think he’s a natural pass rusher just not out in space. We’ll see where it goes.
“Jamario still has got a little fish out of water in him, but he’s a willing soul and he’s working really hard.”
Arkansas is doing some things with the freshmen before practice.
“If you heard the music kick on in the indoor facility, we do five minutes or 10 minutes of really just lining up our freshmen in the core of the formation,” Bielema said. “We’ll take the script of what our older guys are going to run but we’ll just line up and make them make all the Hoganese to get lined up before the ball is snapped.
“How to make the call, how to adjust, how to shift, defensively how to react to that. Then they take one step live in the play and we blow the whistle. Then at the end that period is primarily freshmen there.”
Bielema was quick to praise a lot of his veterans as well including quarterbacks Brandon Allen and Austin Allen, all four tailbacks, his tight ends and wideout Keon Hatcher - who he called a “superstar” in the first few practices.
He also had praise for the play of his defense and a couple of leaders on that side in JaMichael Winston and Taiwan Johnson.
“Defensively nobody really stands out, just lot of guys making different plays,” Bielema said. “Great leadership out of JaMichael and Taiwan. At linebacker Brooks Ellis when he gets rolling is a very very capable player. I am excited to see what he can do. We need more consistency out of Khalia Hackett.
“On the back end, Rohan Gaines, a key for him is going to be consistency. Because he can play as well as anybody as there is at that position. It's just that he will play eight great plays and then two of them might hurt you. We are going to really have to harp on him about being consistent and then our three corners, Jared Collins, D.J. Dean and Henre Toliver have really played good football.”
Freshman tight end Austin Cantrell is working at both fullback and tight end, a spot that Arkansas has nine players.
“I can't get enough of them,” Bielema said. “What you're going to continue to see is they can help us in so many ways in different areas. Linebackers and tight ends, and we're short on LBs to be quite honest. Not all of those guys are scholarship players obviously.
“Austin Cantrell, he's probably going to be that hybrid fullback - tight end. But he's really impressive. C.J. O'Grady did a nice combo block right there at the end. Pretty impressive. Will Gragg looks good. So we really feel good about those freshmen.”
Bielema noted that redshirt freshman kicker Cole Hedlund had been nearly perfect in practice, Lane Saling had also performed well and that Adam McFain is coming off an injury that has led to a team-wide ban on frisbee golf.
“You know what? When y'all were out there today, that was Cole's first miss through three days,” Bielema said. “ Really been striking the ball well and that was obviously the last kick on the right hash, which is his least favorite hash. I've been very happy with him.
“Lane Saling who kicked there today has been really striking the ball pretty well. I think he's right now at about 85 percent. I believe he was at 85 or 86 percent and he was 100 percent today. Then McFain, he hit the ball yesterday and today was an optional day. I didn't make him hit it. If he wanted to he could.
“Adam, probably about a month out from camp was doing something on a Saturday or Sunday, frisbee golf or something like that that specialists play. Had to get out of the way and tweaked his hammy a little bit, or his quad.
“So we banned frisbee golf and he should get healthy.”
Arkansas will have its annual Media Day on Sunday and then return to the practice field on Monday.
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