State of the Hogs: Bielema Explains Healing Process and Foot Injuries

Keon Hatcher underwent "precautionary" surgery and Jack Kraus is speeding to recovery. Bret Bielema explained those surgeries and how he envisions the right side of the offensive line looking in the fall with a probable "flip."

The walking wounded for the Arkansas football team are healing in fast fashion, including Jack Kraus, solidly in the mix for playing time at tight end.

Kraus missed spring drills after undergoing ACL surgery for an injury sustained during bowl preparations in December. Kraus saw his playing time increase late last season and will be one of many tight ends in the picture behind senior Jeremy Sprinkle at tight end.

The status of Kraus was one of many topics that came up in a 30-minute session Thursday morning with Arkansas coach Bret Bielema. Most of the talk was about the fascinating way Bielema will use June satellite camps.

Bielema said Kraus was part of a discussion with tight ends coach Barry Lunney in the last week. Lunney was impressed with the recovery for the Bentonville product.

"Barry brought it up the way Jack played at the end of last year," Bielema said. "He's done a nice job with his body. He came here at 260, lost the bad weight and now is 254 and it's very good weight. We love his demeanor. I will be really surprised if he's not helping us in the fall at tight end and he should be (fully recovered) by the end of May."

There was little talk about spring drills, but Bielema did say there will be a depth chart released soon. One of the items I confirmed is the probable look of the right side of the offensive line for the fall.

"We might flip Brian Wallace to right tackle and Dan Skipper to right guard," Bielema said. "Brian is just more comfortable at tackle. That will get our best five on the field."

Wallace, highly regarded third-year sophomore, had worked as a backup at right tackle the last two seasons, but was tried at guard in the spring with Skipper staying at right tackle. That experiment was hampered by injuries. Wallace missed one week because of a concussion, then the last week -- along with the spring game -- with an injury to the soft tissue of the big toe. Bielema said that injury is healed.

Bielema also explained Keon Hatcher's foot surgery -- along with the rash of other broken feet -- that took place after spring drills.

"Keon was a little bit sore after spring," Bielema said. "So we had the doctor look at it. They put in a bone graft around that same spot where the screw was. It was just precautionary."

Hatcher missed all but two games last season because of a broken foot. Fullback Kody Walker, wide receiver Cody Hollister, running back Jonathan Williams and several others have sustained broken feet. Bielema said it's all under different circumstances.

"We've looked into it, believe me," he said. "It was a concern after the second one. We had a rash of these same things at one point at Wisconsin.

"The (foot injuries) have happened on five different turfs with six or seven injuries. All were with different shoes, except two. All were different functions (of the foot) and a variety of different situations. It goes down as very bad luck.

"We've made contact with Nike and sent them all the information and we'll look at shoes and orthotics. There isn't one common denominator with the injuries. We track everything - the type weather, the drill."

Walker is healing nicely and will be cleared for full workouts after his broken foot midway through spring.

"The thing about Kody, we were about to limit his contact for the last two weeks, so this did that," Bielema said.

Bielema said both defensive end Tevin Beanum and cornerback D.J. Dean are back with the team after going "through a rough point that was bigger than football. We helped them through it."

Running back Denzell Evans expressed an interest in transferring during his semester exit meeting. He'll graduate this summer and will be able to meet the NCAA's graduate transfer policy.

"He was on all of our special teams," Bielema said. "But our depth is such that he wasn't getting on the field (at running back)."

Interestingly, Bielema said it's now the time of year where he'll be hearing from potential incoming graduate transfers.

"We've got a couple of scholarships open," he said. "We've got some street cred after Russell Wilson played for us. We wait until after spring ball."

Bielema was asked about the prospects of incoming freshmen to play immediately. Austin Capps, signed as a defensive linemen, could play on either side of the line of scrimmage.

"He does have that kind of ability," Bielema said. "That came up when we saw him at the spring game. He's grown a little bit since we first recruited him. His body has changed. Anytime you can get on the field early, we'll explore that."

Bielema said there is a chance for early playing time from the four freshmen linebackers and also mentioned Smackover wide receiver Jordon Jones because of his speed.

"We've got depth at wide receiver, but Jordan brings an element that is very, very good," Bielema said.

The NFL draft was touched on, but briefly. Bielema said he was pleased with the players drafted, but didn't seem surprised that junior Denver Kirkland ended up as a signed free agent.

"There were 30 players (who declared early) who didn't get drafted," Bielema said. "I go back to the bye week when a certain draft guy had him rated as the number one guard on his big board. I called him to ask him what he was doing. The next day he dropped him to 10th. On draft day, he wasn't even on the board."

Bielema wanted to explain all of that on a trip to Miami that also included visits with Alex Collins, but Kirkland signed with an agent the day after the LIberty Bowl. There was never a visit with Kirkland.

"There is a proposal that we are putting forth from the American Football Coaches Association to look at a loop hole for an appeal for players in that situation, if they repay everything," Bielema said. "The chance for a free agent making it or just so slim."

Bielema said the rigors of working in satellite camps will be tough on coaches. He also said he's not going to change his policy of giving them four weeks off in the summer. June will be hectic. And, there's still going to be eight Hoganeese classes that are too important to reduce.

Tight end work in those classes will be important. Bielema said there's been progress made by youngsters Austin Cantrell, Will Gragg, C.J. O'Grady, Jamario Bell and Jake Hall, but more is needed.

"They need a really good summer," he said. "I need them to come along. It's mental, but mental becomes physical."

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