Doc Harper: Bielema Developing Different Types Of Toughness During Razorbacks Spring Practice

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If you’ve been paying any attention to spring practice reports coming out of Fayetteville over the last month, it’s clear that a very simple theme has emerged: toughness.

As in, they need some. Or at least more. A lot more.

A Google search for “bielema toughness arkansas” nets 358,000 results.

In the most obvious, Xs and Os context, this is because Bielema is changing the team’s offensive philosophy from the pass-happy Petrino style to the more traditional power offense he’s always been associated with. It’s no secret that Arkansas’ rushing attack attempts had been inconsistent at best over the last five years, other than Knile Davis’ emergence in the latter half of 2010.

With an essentially unproven collection of quarterbacks and receivers on the roster,* and with Bielema’s track record of successful running backs at Wisconsin, Razorbacks fans are certainly hoping to see significant improvement on the ground this season.  To do that, the offensive linemen, another group Bielema has a history of developing well, will need to be more physical, more trained to push people around instead of spending most of their time protecting a quarterback.

*How is this possible? It makes no sense that as soon as the Petrino crew leaves, a group that took pride in stockpiling receivers like canned goods in hurricane season, that this isn’t the deepest position on the team with the highest expectations? Arkansas basically has two running backs, one of whom will be a true freshman, and that’s the group getting most of the hype going into the season. What an indictment on the recruiting ability of the Petrino staff that they weren’t able to follow up the Childs/Adams/Wright/Hamilton group with a receiving corps fans would be really excited about. I’m not saying these receivers will be bad – I expect them to be reliable. But still.

Jonathan Williams was one of the very, very few reasons for Arkansas Razorbacks fans to get out of bed in 2012, and coaches have frequently praised his efforts this spring. Along with highly touted incoming freshman Alex Collins, if the coaches are successful in instilling toughness and physicality in the offensive line, the Hogs could see some real success on the ground in 2013.

This doesn’t even begin to describe the need for the defense to be more physical.  That goes without saying.

But beyond the necessity of physical toughness, the Razorbacks also need to develop it mentally.

It’s easily forgotten that the Razorbacks were a pretty decent first-quarter team in 2012. But they’d respond to the slightest adversity about as well as a cat sprayed with water. How many times did we see the team begin to fold when a penalty would wipe out a huge play or when losses began piling up? That will have to change if Arkansas has a successful 2013 season, even if success simply means earning a bowl bid.

Once spring practice ends around the country in the coming weeks, all the national preview magazines and television specials will begin to come out, and one thing you can expect to see about Arkansas in nearly each one of them is a reference to the Razorbacks’ incredibly difficult schedule.  Specifically, it refers to the five-week stretch that begins with a trip to Rutgers, includes a game in The Swamp, ends in Tuscaloosa, and features a couple of home games against the likes of Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney.

Regardless of what Arkansas’ record ends up being during those five games, how successful the team ends up being will likely be determined by the Hogs’ performance in November against the Mississippi schools and Auburn.  It’s imperative that if the Razorbacks struggle through that midseason gauntlet, they are able to regroup mentally for the closing stretch of the season.

That’s a sort of toughness that’s just as important as physicality.  Practicing overcoming adversity begins this spring. We’ve heard coaches talking about it by describing the physical consequences of mental mistakes like false starts and other penalties. Bielema described in his introductory press conference how important it was to him to be fundamentally sound and has described playing on the goal line as a “mentality,” so he’s aware that it’s more than just physical improvement the Razorbacks need and has made it a point to do just that.

Victories in 2013 won’t come easy, but the Hogs are being trained right now not to beat themselves, which in and of itself would be a huge improvement. Combine that with some improved physical toughness, and we’ll start to really see a program come together.

Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Expats and is a regular contributor to College Football News and Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him here and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.

 

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6 Responses to “Doc Harper: Bielema Developing Different Types Of Toughness During Razorbacks Spring Practice”

  1. nchogg
    April 15, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    I like the read and yes it’s a tough schedule. I know we will have a much better offensive line this year. We won’t 1st and 20 due to false start penalties. We will have a good passing game. The offensive staff will see to that so we won’t be one dimensional. As you hear coach say that the defense will play the first play of the game like the 60th play of the game. We have a tough smart team. I think we will surprise some teams.
    Keep working and learning team!

  2. Brian
    April 16, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    We will never out Bama Bama or lswho. The only ways to beat a team with more talent is with a different scheme (spread etc) that throws them off balance. We will never b ‘tough’ enuf to consistently beat bama etc. cuz they simply recruit much better, bigger, faster kids. Sad but true.

  3. J
    April 16, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    Good article in general, but be careful about using Google searches to back up your points. “steak toughness Arkansas” yields 10.5 million hits.

  4. NewYorkHogFan
    August 14, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Nice job, Doc. I think last year was an aberration. That team had more talent than the record would suggest. The cupboard is definitely not bare this year. This team will surprise some people. I think we have a chance at Florida. That team was not impressive last year. Driscol is not very good and they are breaking in another running back. Their physical style will be similar to ours. I think we have a chance to steal one. We always play South Carolina well and I am not ready to put that game in the loss column. And what if Johnny Football is ruled ineligible before the season? The A&M game suddenly become easier. Tell me . . . am I drinking too much cool aide?

  5. Tim Nash
    August 16, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

    great read. i agree with the above comments, except Brian (Bama and LSwho can be beat at their own game). Heart, determination, luck and will can overcome talent on any given Saturday. These Hogs will have the right mindset for this year, as opposed to all the drama from last year. WPS!!!

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