In between spring practices, new Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema is making the rounds to the many Razorback Clubs throughout the state, and on Monday the tour took him to the Greers Ferry Lake Area Razorback Club meeting at the Heber Springs Events Center. Before the event, which drew a record 700 or so folks for the young club (about 550 showed up two years ago for Bobby Petrino’s appearance in Heber Springs), Bielema fielded a few media questions about the state of the Hogs as they have reached the halfway point in the spring practice period.
Q: How is the competition going between the quarterbacks?
Bielema: Brandon Allen, Brandon Mitchell, also [Brian] Buehner and [A.J.] Derby are in there as well working.
I think the biggest thing is, since we’ve started through spring ball to where we are today, Brandon Allen has continued to just kind of separate himself in every situation. He really does a nice job of trying to dictate the flow of the play and understanding where the ball needs to go. Brandon Mitchell has done some nice things as well, as well as everybody.
Q: Can you compare the fans from the Midwest and what you’ve encountered here on the Razorback Club tour?
Bielema: Just like tonight you’ve got 700 people, sold the place out, very excited, very passionate people that love their Hogs, love to hear about them on a daily basis. The great thing is, it’s been this way everywhere we’ve been, no matter if it’s northeast, southwest, everywhere we’ve been in Arkansas has been very positive.
Q: Did you have a large array of clubs like this Wisconsin?
Bielema: We did my first couple of years and then they segued into a different kind of format which reduced the total number [of clubs] and drove the [overall membership] numbers up, but obviously not near as much passion especially in all the maybe small- or medium-sized towns where you’ve got the whole people coming out and supporting everything and doing it in a way that they show all their passion on a daily basis.
Q: What’s the No. 1 question you’re getting from the fans?
Bielema: It depends on the region but a lot of times it’s, who’s playing quarterback? If we’re going to tackle on defense? What kind of offensive line are we going to build? The other one that really jumps out all the time is just, everyone is so knowledgeable about what our schedule is and the type of opponents we play and the tremendous challenge that is, so that’s a common question as well.
Q; What has been the biggest change for the players going from a passing attack to more of a run-based attack?
Bielema: Without a doubt, obviously offensively a year ago and in previous years it was a little bit different philosophy than what we’re carrying forward. Just teaching players to play downhill, power football, put their hands on people, move people around. That’s a little bit of a change, but it’s nothing they haven’t accepted with both arms wide open and it’s been a really nice transition.
Q: Something we’ve heard from many high school coaches in Central Arkansas is that you’ve been very open with them about what you want to do. How important is that to you?
Bielema: When I took over and was at my opening day press conference I said we wanted to throw a fence around the state, and anybody that can play SEC championship football we need to have them in our family, and that’s not going to change. As far as the way we communicate with coaches, I just think honesty is the best policy. You tell them up front what you’re looking for, what you want — offensively, defensively and special teams. We’re trying to be a little bit more proactive in our research and recruitment of players within the state. It all starts up front. For us, we want to find out who can play in our state and be able to offer them scholarships and get them in our program.
Q: Do you think it’s a little unfair to address a crowd like this, give them the rah-rah speech and have it …
Bielema: …Turn into national media? Yeah. It’s just also a reminder on a daily basis that everything is public. It’s just, you can’t interpret tones. When I made a comment last week, it was kind of a rebuttal to a question and everybody was laughing and joking around and obviously it was taken out of context. Guys who don’t handle their business or do it well professionally, it shows up more now, but we’ll definitely be guarded as we move forward. (Read Jim Harris’ column this week on the issue here.) (And Doc Harper offers his take on the idea of Bielema being guarded here.)
Q: Will you have a depth chart after the spring game?
Bielema: After the spring game? Absolutely. We’ll put something out there for the media and for us to move forward. I just didn’t want to paint into a picture that wasn’t real. I believe first impressions last a lifetime so I kind of wanted to get a feel of our guys were before we actually jumped full go into a depth chart.
They’ve responded very, very well. Our kids understanding what we’re looking for. They’ve been very, very proactive in their learning and the way that they want to learn, the way they want to play the game. They’re very hungry. I couldn’t be happier for where they’re at.
Q: You said elsewhere that one of the strengths you liked coming into spring was in the defensive front. Is that an area you’re seeing stand out?
Bielema: We do, there are a lot of players that came back from a year ago, very impressive players during the out-of-season work and conditioning, both inside and outside. I’ve been very, very pleased with that. I’ve been pleased with the development of the guys that need to come along, not just on the d-line but the o-line. I think they really bought into that [Strength] Coach [Ben] Herbert has talked about in the weight room, how they eat and how they prepare and how they facilitate getting to be where we needed to be.
Q: Is there a spot that you sit around thinking, “I hope we can get that worked out before September.”
Bielema: I think as a head coach you sit around thinking about that all the time. But no one glaring spot. I think we have willing souls. You always want to maybe try to recruit to a level that you feel a little bit more comfortable. But I’m very excited. We have over 20 seniors that are very hungry, very excited about the year in front of them. Anytime you have a group of seniors who want to lead that way, you’re going to have good results.
Below is a video of some of the action from spring practice released by the University of Arkansas.