FAYETTEVILLE – After one week of spring practice, Bret Bielema sounded like every football coach in the country.
Arkansas’ fifth-year head coach may have spoken in cliché, but the Razorbacks should take that as a positive because he has never been afraid to speak up when he is unhappy with his team.
“I’m just very excited about the things that you hope for,” Bielema said after Saturday’s practice. “Guys are definitely in the right attitude, guys are flying around, guys have good energy.”
Bielema said he was pleased with the way his team responded to its first day in full pads, but he was critical of one group.
“I think our wideouts have to pick it up a little bit,” Bielema said. “I thought they were a little bit draggy in the beginning. Looking for a little leadership out of that group.”
Not surprisingly, he is counting on senior Jared Cornelius, the lone receiver with significant experience, to lead the charge.
Ball security was also an issue Saturday, but Bielema was not concerned and sounded confident that it would be a quick fix.
As for installation, the Razorbacks have most of their offensive playbook in and will move into situational drills – such as first and second down, third-and-long, red zone, etc. – next week.
That process on the defensive side of the ball has been a little slower because of several new faces along the defensive line and the switch to a 3-4 scheme, but Bielema praised them for “doing a nice job attacking the football.”
Both sides of the ball have bought in to Arkansas’ theme of “finishing” and Bielema described all three practices as “winning practices” in which the team improved.
“We grade every practice, every snap on what we’re calling ‘strain to finish,’” Bielema said. “You hear guys talking about it all the time and we want people running to the ball. We want our guys lined up before the snap.”
Here are a few other tidbits from Bielema’s press conference recapping the first week of spring practice:
The only significant injury this spring continues to be Dre Greenlaw (foot), who isn’t expected to participate in any of the 15 practices. Instead, he is serving as an extra linebackers coach.
Sophomore tight end Grayson Gunter (shoulder) has been limited, but has gone through non-contact drills while wearing a green jersey.
Other than those players, which were previously known, Bielema mentioned that tight end Jack Kraus (ankle) and defensive back Korey Hernandez (unspecified) as having minor injuries.
“(Kraus) really handled it all week, didn’t have any issues, went out there and played, competed,” Bielema said. “Korey Hernandez today, I guess, he pulled up a little bit with a deep post route, trying to cover that, so we’ll see where that is.”
Bielema also mentioned that tight end Cheyenne O’Grady was “a little bit under the weather” Saturday, but that didn’t prevent him from fully participating in practice.
OLBs Thrive in Pads
Randy Ramsey has always been an impressive player in practices and Saturday was no different. Bielema said he noticed a big difference in the Florida native once the Razorbacks strapped on their pads.
“He’s a kid that likes contact and thrives off it,” Bielema said. “He got his hands on an outside ball there that was a pretty impressive break.”
Ramsey has been playing the “Razor” position, which is the hybrid linebacker/defensive back, while Michael Taylor is at the “Hog,” which is the hybrid linebacker/defensive lineman.
Taylor transferred to Arkansas from Riverside C.C., but had to sit out because of paperwork issues. Instead, he was a critical piece of the Razorbacks’ scout team, mimicking opponents’ top pass rushers.
“Mike Taylor is a very gifted athlete,” Bielema said. “I think the offensive linemen would tell you he probably has one of the more just natural pass rush techniques of our entire group.”
Gibson Working Back In
Only the first 20 minutes of Tuesday and Thursday’s practices were open to the media, but Johnny Gibson was not seen working with the first- or second-team offensive line.
The junior from Dumas, Ark., earned a scholarship in December and started at right guard in Arkansas’ final five games of the season.
Offensive line coach Kurt Anderson revealed Thursday that it was disciplinary. However, during the hour of open practice Saturday, Gibson was spotted working with the second team.
“We let Johnny Gibson work back into the lineup,” Bielema said. “He won’t work with the ones any time this spring, but he looked really good when he was going in there with the twos.”
The exact nature of what Gibson did is not known, but Bielema did elaborate on it more after practice.
“Just a trust factor there that I have to get on the same page with him,” Bielema said. “I gave him a scholarship. I expect him to do everything we’re asking him to do n the field and off the field.
“He’s got a chance to re-prove himself and he’s doing a good job.”
Young Tight Ends Progressing
Gragg’s issue sounds like it is consistency.
“I tell you what, Will Gragg did some nice things,” Bielema said. “You’re going to hopefully see him continue to progress. We have to have it carry forward into the next practice and the next practice.”
Bell, on the other hand, is still having a hard time grasping the playbook. This is second spring as a tight end after converting from defensive end last year.
“Jamario, athletically, is as good as you could ask for,” Bielema said. “We have to get him assignment sharp, get him on task. We can’t have a coach in the huddle telling him what to do.”
Bielema has noticed Bell putting in the effort, though, as he’s been visiting with tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. in his office and doing extra film study.
Neither one has yet to appear in a game.