State of the Hogs: Injuries and Position Moves

It's national signing day, but Bret Bielema delivered the news on Hjalte Froholdt moving to offense, injuries and more in a media session Wednesday. And, the Arkansas coach made it clear that his comments towards Ole Miss and Florida were meant as compliments.

While some in the Twitter game were closing in on Bret Bielema's remarks about Florida – the ultimate compliment from a coach on signing day – there was real news to be gained from the press conference. I pressed on.

What about position changes? How about the offseason program? Where there any post-bowl surgeries? How about the condition of Rawleigh Williams?

Those are the things I wanted Bielema to cover Wednesday afternoon, although the Arkansas head coach did make sure to cover the Twitter rage as far as his comments about Florida being the new Ole Miss.

His comment on ESPN didn't have anything to do with the NCAA investigation at Ole Miss, just a compliment to Jim McElwain at Florida for being everywhere that Arkansas seemed to be over the last few weeks in recruiting. The Gators closed on two recruits that Arkansas was also courting, including a junior college cornerback pledged to the Hogs for one week.

“I called Hugh (Freeze, Ole Miss) coach and Jim about that,” Bielema said. “I was just trying to pay them a compliment. We discovered a junior college linemen in Illinois a couple of weeks ago and when we inquired, he was already committed to Ole Miss. It was like Ole Miss is everywhere. And, we never saw Florida outside Florida and Georgia, but this year they are in Texas, Louisiana and North Dakota. I was paying them a compliment, nothing more.”

It's not clear about Bielema's relationship with McElwain, but he's maintained a good friendship with Freeze. It apparently is still OK.

The Hogs are apparently OK as far as injuries, too. Bielema confirmed that wide receiver Drew Morgan is out of a sling after shoulder surgery. D.J. Dean had foot surgery for an issue with his big toe that plagued him for most of the season. Linebacker Josh Williams has had two good weeks of healing for a second surgery after a broken leg. Rawleigh Williams got a good report on a second opinion for a neck injury.

“We had a second opinion on Rawleigh to make his mother feel better and me feel better,” Bielema said. “It matched what (Fayetteville doctors) have said. He's cleared to do some things in the spring, but I'll probably be extra careful.

“As far as the other guys, I got onto Drew for getting out of that sling a week too early. But you know him.”

There aren't too many position changes. Hjalte Froholdt is moving from defensive tackle to offensive guard.

“I told him he'd have a better chance to get on the field quicker there,” Bielema said. “He could play in the defensive line. He wins his battle with his man because of his strength, but he does better when he knows where he's going. I think offensive guard is a better position for him.”

Damon Mitchel appears to want to try something other than wide receiver. The Hogs are stacked there, something that might have figured into losing a last-day battle with Florida for a highly coveted wide receiver. Mitchell, a former quarterback, has asked to try either safety or running back. Bielema said they will weigh some options as offseason practices develop.

Kenderick Jackson played his freshman season at fullback, but he's with the middle linebackers now. Bielema said coaches on both sides of the ball covet Jackson.

“I think he's a linebacker,” Bielema said. “And I think we have some more options at fullback and don't need him there. I want to see what he can bring to mike linebacker.

“We think Austin Cantrell can help us there (at fullback and H-back). We wanted to use him early in the year, but he hurt his ankle. By the middle of the year, he was killing people as he worked on our scout team. He played quarterback and running back when we played Tennessee. He emulated Derrick Henry when we played Alabama.”

The winter conditioning program began Monday. Bielema said the first week of classes was spent evaluating newcomers in an elaborate testing procedure designed by strength coach Ben Herbert. Interestingly, Bielema has suspended freshman Dre Greenlaw, C.J. O'Grady and Jamario Bell from that program for academic reasons.

“If they do things right this week – and all indications are that they have had three good days – then they will be back on Monday,” Bielema said, noting academic performances are just as important to him as football work.”

Some might be concerned with losing that cornerback, but Bielema said there is good news as far as the developmental program at that position with Ryan Pulley and Nate Dalton.

“Ryan had really good bowl practices and you saw him get the interception at the end of the game,” Bielema said of the Liberty Bowl. “Nate Dalton got better every week, too. I didn't think cornerback was as important as linebacker and safety and I like what we got there. We were thin at safety.”

What about the quarterback battle as the Hogs replace Brandon Allen?

“You want to try to be ahead of the game,” Bielema said. “So during our bowl practices, we had six practices that we didn't let BA on the field. We want the quarterbacks to get the feel of him not being there. And, quite honestly, I wanted (quarterbacks coach) Dan Enos to get that feeling, too.

“Austin Allen continues to do much good. In fact, he's getting closer to perfect in his performance. He has shown that he can get us a victory. He played most of the Ole Miss game two years ago when his brother was hurt and helped us beat a top 25 team.

“Rafe Peavy does some really good things and he's got that work ethic you want. Ty Storey keeps getting better. He needs to get stronger in his throwing. Ricky Town was impressive in running our scout team, but he never grasped our terminology. In the bowl practices when he was in there, he was not speaking Hoganeese. He was speaking French. He'll get there. And, to be honest, we are going to throw Cole Kelley in there quickly in the fall.”

OK, there's your only reference to the 20-man class that Bielema signed on Wednesday. Kelley is the 6-7, 260-pound quarterback from Lafayette, La.

Just to give you the scouting report on Kelley, he's got great arm strength. Bielema said he can throw it 100 yards. There's more. He once listened to Taylor Swift on his iPod to get him fired up before games.

I'm not big on Taylor Swift songs. But I did remember her song Red and double checked the lyrics and they seem important on signing day. It starts like this, “Losing him was blue,” and finishes like this,

“Loving him was red.”

Better to remember the guy wearing red,Cole Kelley, than any that picked blue, Ole Miss or Florida. Maybe Taylor Swift is OK.

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