Hogs Say Tough Offseason Workouts

FAYETTEVILLE — Chris Gragg has lined up at tight end the past two days, 12 pounds heavier than he was as a true freshman receiver just four months ago.

He credits the strenuous offseason program led by strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp, which he, like many of his teammates, referred to as "really hard." He also attributes a mandated bonus.

"They made me eat. Eating two plates a day at every meal, that helped," said Gragg, a 6-foot-5, 222-pound Warren native. "Eating's not a problem for me. I enjoyed it."

Gragg and his Arkansas teammates didn't necessarily enjoy much else about a winter full of early morning lifts, sprints and agility drills.

But they still entered spring practice considerably bigger and faster, the result of a realistic approach to painful yet rewarding grunt work.

"Just being together through the winter, we knew it'd be hard," Gragg said. "We have a lot of expectations on ourselves for this season, so we wanted to start it the right way. Everyone supported each other."

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino noticed far more purpose the past few months than he did his first few months on the job. Petrino's first "offseason" as coach didn't really get started until after the 2008 Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri.

Yet the Razorbacks were back in the weight room after Petrino's first season two days after downing LSU 31-30 on Nov. 28 in Little Rock.

They "couldn't wait to get back at it" after beating LSU, said Jerico Nelson, who played extensively as a freshman and started the spring as the top strong safety.

"I do feel like a year ago it was more about survival in the offseason and just getting through the day, where this year it was completely different," Petrino said. "Our attitude was to attack the day and get better, and our players really did a nice job of that and finished it up with a very good week of testing."

Veltkamp, who worked with Petrino previously at Louisville, said the effort of this group was unprecedented in his mind.

"I probably have never had a team attack an offseason the way this one has," Veltkamp said.

As a result, most players gained needed weight. Arkansas' projected defensive line starters gained 15 pounds on average and many other Razorbacks are up at least 10, the reward of enduring weights, sprints and Veltkamp's Full Metal Fridays.

This offseason's version of grueling boot camp-like drills was a weekly tournament created by Veltkamp, in which the Hogs raced by pulling 550-pound sleds. The final rounds took place in sand pits. So not only are most of the Hogs bulkier, almost everyone is faster, including running back Dennis Johnson.

Johnson had 905 kick return yards as a freshman and recently ran 4.3 in the 40-yard dash.

"The biggest thing was we all looked out for each other," said defensive tackle Zach Stadther, Arkansas' fifth-leading tackler as a freshman. "We had a buddy system. We had to wake each other up at 4:30 in the morning and I don't think anybody missed."

Gragg said the entire experience brought the Razorbacks closer together. Chemistry, he said, won't be a problem with this season's Hogs.

"Just being together through the winter, we knew it'd be hard," Gragg said. "We have a lot of expectations on ourselves for this season, so we wanted to start it the right way."

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