FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas held its 12th practice of the spring Saturday.
And for the first time this spring, the Razorbacks didn't hold a significant scrimmage on a Saturday.
Instead, Arkansas did non-tackling work most of the practice before ending the day with a 14-play, full-contact session that focused on red zone and goal line work.
Why the change? Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said he didn't want to press his luck with next week's Red-White Game looming.
"I just through the last two weekends, three weekends, we've really been very high competitive, a lot of reps," Bielema said. "We had over a 100 play scrimmage last Saturday. I thought we might be pushing the envelop a little bit if we did that again today for its entirety. And then go do it good against good next Saturday. So we backed off and went a normal practice except for down there during the red zone goal line."
There were a few things to note from the practice, though:
QB Brandon Allen was sharp with his downfield throws, completing a handful of passes to receivers like Javontee Herndon and Demetrius Wilson
LB Robert Atiga turned in the play of the day, intercepting a pass from Brandon Mitchell and returning it 85 yards for a touchdown.
RB Kody Walker returned to full-contact work in the 14-play scrimmage. It was the first time he has been tackled since suffering his broken leg last September.
Here were a few more highlights from Bielema's post-practice press conference:
(On LB Braylon Mitchell's rise to the first-team defense) "Did Braylon Mitchell surprise me? No. But other people that have been around have made that comment, which I understand totally, just because he wasn't a guy I heard a lot about coming in and things along that line. What I love is he just is a very, very matter-of-fact kid. He handles his business, grinds, he's been a pupil in coach Shannon's office quite a bit. I know a couple of you have written stories that, you know our kids have just been a sponge. We've really - first we kind of had to let them know where our football offices were to get them up in our offices and to be around us and we want them in our offices. We want to converse with them. We want to teach them the game individually, as much as they can handle. It's been a steady, steady diet that has grown every week. Just the culture to get those guys understanding that we want. Braylon's been a great example of that and he's playing at a high level because of it."
(On some of the most progress has been made this spring) "Well, I think first, I've been hard on our wide receivers. Them catching the ball today was very apparent. Obviously, probably the hardest conditions we've been in: Moisture slash wind slash a little bit cold and they caught it better today than they have all spring. Obviously I know that's a two-part thing. It's the throw and the catch. But I really, really like the progress they've made. I thought (Javontee) Herndon had a really good day. Excited because him and Demetrius Wilson, as upperclassmen, the more they can lead that group the better off we're gonna be. We've got some young guys that are talented. (Keon) Hatcher's kind of the teacher's pet. I really just love his attitude, his energy, his physical presence. May not be the most gifted guy in that group, but he's definitely a great attitude guy. So we've got a lot of bodies there I'm excited about and they're definitely willing to work, which is fun."
(On the offensive line's growth this spring) Huge improvement. If there's a group from when we started to where we are that had to change the most and have done that, it's been the offensive line. They went from a system that was hurry up and play, get as many reps as you can, lot of 3-step game, just different things offensively than we're asking them to do. They've kind of bought into their manhood a little bit. Changed their bodies physically so much. Have moved some personnel around. We'll continue to grow that position. I think they'll not only have the biggest jump right now in spring ball, I think they'll have the biggest jump in the summer, which leads to the fall as well."
(On what he means by 'testing their manhood') "One time when we really got rolling at the previous place, there was a point where in the third and fourth quarter there were some teams that would just quit playing the way that they started the game. There was a quote from a coach that said they took a little bit of our manhood from us today. That year, it just spread like wildfire through our players. When you say something like that, everybody, as a man, you feel you can own up to your manhood and be who you are, what you are 24-7. If somebody threatens that, you hope it pulls on their courage a little bit. So the more we can stress that and emphasize it, the better we are.
Robbie Neiswanger Arkansas News Bureau