Late in the Friday morning workout, there was something new for the Arkansas football players trying to please strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp. There were 8-10 personal sleds with either a 150-pound disc or a coach. The Hogs had to push the sled about 50 yards.
Asked what he thought of the new drill, Arkansas senior center Jonathan Luigs just shrugged. He said he knows every day is going to bring something different with Veltkamp's summer workouts.
"He likes to give us something else aside from just pumping iron every day," Luigs said. "Pumping iron each day can become boring."
There is no boredom with Veltkamp. He thinks the Hogs have figured him out after a winter and part of a summer in his program.
"They know to expect the unexpected," Veltkamp said. "I think at first you'd see the second group each day come up to the first group and ask what we'd done. They wanted to know, kind of contemplate it for a little while before we got started. I don't think they do that anymore. They just come in and tackle it.
"We gave them something new today with the sleds and they tackled it great. That's the way they are now."
Luigs and a pair of rising sophomores, tight end D. J. Williams and defensive tackle Patrick Jones, waited after the workout early Friday morning when media watched a group of around 30 -- mostly linemen and tight ends -- go through the lifting and running portion of what was billed as a typical summer workout. It was the second group of the day, beginning around 6:30 a.m.
Luigs, Williams and Jones, the three players selected to visit with reporters, all said the team is coming together with these workouts. They are called voluntary, but Veltkamp said no one misses. It's part of a long summer day which includes summer school and an afternoon 7-on-7 passing session run by the players.
"We are having a good summer," Luigs said. "I think we are doing really well. What we are doing is a little different, but it's just a lot of things to keep it from getting boring. I think the main difference, though, is the leadership of the seniors, from the team.
"I give a lot of credit to the seniors of this team. They are doing a good job of instilling work ethic in the young guys and the young guys came here with their ears open. I think that's where we've made the most improvement from the last three years. That's where it's different.
"I think what you see that's different is that the whole team is there for the 7-on-7 drills, the position drills. We definitely have taken positive steps in that area and we are together as a team."
Jones and Williams were more animated in the way they compared this year to past years. However, it should be noted that neither were in Fayetteville for but a portion of last year's workouts since they were incoming freshmen. Newcomers were kept in a controlled climate and brought along gently in past seasons, according to the veterans.
Jones called the current summer workouts "very challenging" and a "definite grind." He thinks they will make a difference in the coming season.
"I wouldn't say anything we've done is easy, but I think most of the players adjusted to them pretty quickly," Jones said. "I would say that most of the guys will tell you that they are in the best shape of their lives."
There didn't appear to be any out of shape players in the drills seen by the media. As one reporter noted, "There are no fat guys out here." Among the linemen in the workout attended by the media was offensive guard Kareem Crowell. He appears to have lost weight. He struggled in workouts last summer, but had no trouble keeping up Friday.
"I think we are all doing well," Jones said. "Everybody is working hard and picking each other up when it's a hard day. It's a grind, it is. But I think you see that we are doing well."
Veltkamp breaks down the workout into four quarters, but there are sometimes extra periods if something goes wrong during the day.
"We didn't have any OTs today," Jones said. "Maybe it was because you guys were here. But if we don't work hard enough, or we miss up, we'll have to come back and do some things over. We didn't have any mess ups today."
Jones said Veltkamp warned the group just before the media arrived. They were halfway through their lifting session.
"He told us you guys were about to come into the lifting room and he said, 'Guys, look good because you are going to be on the 10 o'clock news and you don't want to look bad,' " Jones said. "So I think we wanted to have a good morning for you guys."
Veltkamp said the overtime sessions are usually for messing up on little things.
"You'll see on our workout shirts it says 'finish' and right under that it mentions doing the little things right," he said. "That's what makes a difference. So it's not doing the little things right that gets overtime sessions for the group. We don't allow you to bend over, grab your shorts. Doing the little things means touching the line on every drill. If they mess up, we'll come back after the end of the day and do those drills over a few more times."
There is an emphasis that some games last more than four quarters. And, that's not the only symbolism used by Veltkamp. At the end of each Friday session (there are three scattered through the morning), players are pulled to the center of the practice field. A plastic tarp is thrown out with a concrete brick. A player who has made improvement during the week dons a hard hat then smashes the brick.
"If you've worked hard, you might get to break the rock," Jones said. "You show what you are going to do to the opponent each week -- you are going to break 'em. That's our goal, to break the opponent. Coach V tells us we are going against opponents each day this summer. He tells us what we have to do to break them and then we go out and try to do that."
Veltkamp and his staff vote each Thursday on who has performed well enough to smash the rock. They pick a player from offense and from defense. This week it was tight end Andrew Davie and defensive back Ramon Broadway.
"Any coach on my staff can veto a player," he said. "A guy might have a good week, but if he is a guy who needs to gain weight and he's lost one pound, he gets a veto. It may be a guy we've asked to improve a certain area.
"I asked Andrew Davie to step up with his leadership last Friday. He did. He changed the way he's gone about things from a leadership standpoint."
Luigs said he's not gotten to smash the brick, but got a kick out of watching Davie do the honors.
"I've known him for a while and he's interesting because he plays golf right handed," Luigs said. "But when he grabbed that sledge hammer, he swung it left handed. I guess he does things different ways. I think he swung a baseball bat lefty.
"No, I haven't been picked to smash it. I know the coaches use that to build someone up or reward them for a good week. I don't need to do it. I'm glad others are doing that."
It's not like Luigs hasn't been noted as a leader. Veltkamp said Luigs, Casey Dick, Mitch Petrus along with Davie and Williams have all been awesome leaders this summer.
"I think you see Casey being a big part of that," Veltkamp said of the leadership factor over the summer. "The two tight ends and the older offensive linemen have done well. Cord Gray is doing well there with the defensive linemen."
Veltkamp has a habit of spending a lot of time with the defensive linemen during workouts and he said that will carry over into the season. He said he usually gravitates to the defensive linemen for pre-game meals.
"Defensive linemen tend to be a little different, a little crazy," he said. "I kind of end up with them a lot. I think they need a kick from time to time. They get a little squirrelly sometimes. That's not just here, but everywhere. It's how they are most everywhere. I think our defensive linemen are doing well. Cord is doing well. Ernest Mitchell is coming back from (surgery) well. Of course, Malcolm Sheppard is always going to give great effort. I'm encouraged by this group of defensive linemen."
Luigs said it's obvious that Dick has become the number one leader for this football team.
"I think you have a leader at each different position, but I think the quarterback position is so important that what happens there is important," Luigs said. "I think what you see is Casey taking hold of this team. He's taken ownership. You have expanded pass skeleton. He's the leader in that and I think you see him leading in the conditioning areas, too.
"I think Davie is a good leader. On defense, the leader there is probably Elston Forte. He's the one pushing the defense. Overall, the leadership has been great this summer. I see that as being a big plus for us right now."
The attitude at the workout visited by the media was outstanding Friday morning. There was also plenty of competition in races.
"The sled race is pretty intense," Luigs said. "I really don't think about how much weight is on the sled because I'm too busy watching to see if I'm winning. That's the focus, competing. If you turn it into fun, you do better."
Veltkamp was asked about the weight on the sled and the vests that linemen don in a run up a steep slope.
"How much weight is in the vests?" Veltkamp said. "Really, they are different. Some of them are 25 and some of them 30 pounds or 35. Some have figured that out and they know that the first one over to the drill gets to scope out which one is lighter. We have some drills with heavy, jagged rocks they have to carry. They learn that if they hustle over they can pick up the lighter one, or the one that's got less jagged edges."
Luigs calls those drills Veltkamp's "Rocky Drills." He likes most of them, but isn't too high on Veltkamp's music in the lifting room. The speakers blared some loud, alternative metal sounds when the media was present. Luigs liked that better than the Thursday music.
"Coach Veltkamp had some Johnny Cash on the speakers and I didn't really care too much for that," Luigs said. "Ring of Fire. We aren't real happy with that."
Veltkamp laughed about that.
"Well, I'm a big country fan and that's one of my favorites," he said. "Ring of Fire, played it a couple of times at the end yesterday. It made my head quit hurting (from the other selections). I'm going to play that a few times."
Jones said playes probably feared Veltkamp a little at the start of winter workouts, but have learned to love him.
"I think we all respect him and like him a lot now," Jones said. "He is going to yell at you and he's real intense, but he's trying to get you better and he looks after you. I think you'll see if we aren't getting water, the manager is going to get yelled at. If you guys got in our way, he'd probably yell at you, too. He wants what is best for us in every way. He's going to get us better and help us win."
Veltkamp thinks all are improving. Asked about tight end Ben Cleveland's recovery from a foot or toe injury, he said, "I think Ben would tell you that he's more explosive and stronger than he was at this time last year. He had some trouble pushing off in the winter, but he's moving pretty well right now. I think he's going to help us this fall."
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