All football at Hogs Media Day - a somewhat surprising change
FAYETTEVILLE - Whew.
Let's see. What topic didn't Bret Bielema cover during Arkansas Media Day on Sunday?
There was the quarterback pecking order; the freshmen expectations, as in 'how many will play this year?' There were notes about secondary improvement and avoiding a slow start. And there were topics on the rescheduling of two-a-days and the offensive line shuffle.
Overall, it was a surprisingly football-highlighted day. Nothing much, or at all, about satellite camps or coaching rivalries or Jen Bielema. And while football media day would obviously yield more football type questions, it was a bit different than last year when jokes and off-the-field things were more common than this.
The season is officially a month away now, when Arkansas opens its season against Louisiana Tech at Donald W. Reynolds Stadium on September 3 at 3 p.m. For everything that is set in stone - Austin Allen is the quarterback, Brooks Ellis and Dre Greenlaw are the linebackers, Deatrich Wise Jr. is a beast - there are questions, too.
Bielema tackled them in his half-hour.
First, Louisiana Tech. At first blush, perhaps not the most intimidating opponent for a Week 1 game. But the Bulldogs aren't slouches, either. They've made a bowl game three of the last five years and the last two overall. They're not all that dissimilar, in stature, to Toledo, a team that came to Arkansas last year and sent Razorbacks country into a state of shellshock. Avoiding the same fate this year is paramount, especially in a season Arkansas has its hardest home schedule perhaps in history.
"last year we stubbed our toe early," Bielema said. "Last year the three most penalized games we had last year all kind of came in a row there with Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. We had an uncharacteristic amount of self-inflicted wounds that the forumla we like to play and like to win with doesn't speak well to that. We talked about that but also, kids all summer, every time I've heard them say things, I've read them in the media, i read them in SEC Media Day, they talk about starting fast."
Starting fast with a new quarterback, though one not totally inexperienced. Austin Allen has the benefit of one of the best wide receiving corps in the SEC and a stable of good, if untested, running backs behind him. It'll likely the the former shouldering a chunk of the load in the early going.
Two of those receivers, Keon Hatcher and Dominique Reed, are battling their own demons right now. Hatcher is mostly out of his difficult period. He lost one of his best friends to the NFL in Jonathan Williams and what should have been his final season in Fayetteville to a foot injury. He's since lost his job, technically for now, to Drew Morgan on the exterior.
Reed may be the fastest receiver in the SEC. But he's also up-and-down. He's currently out of a starting gig opposite Morgan as Cody Hollister has taken advantage of some of Reed's mental difficulties.
Whether Reed and Hatcher return to starting or not, Bielema wants, and probably needs, them at the top of their game, or close to it, especially in the early going.
"The wide receiver position is stacked. It's got depth," Bielema said. "(Reed) made a couple nice big plays, especially we all know he can run after the ball is caught. He's had a nice start to fall camp, but he's a guy that has to show he can play every down."
Truth of it is every player needs to be onboard. It's year four of Bielema's tenure at Arkansas. The Razorbacks have gone from three wins to seven to eight. A nine-win season would be a boon given the schedule and personnel losses that are coming. Because as it sits, right now, Arkansas will lose its best offensive lineman, four of its top five wideouts, its No. 1 tight end, three of four starting defensive linemen, a four-year starter at linebacker and two three-year starters at Arkansas.
At least things are finally stable. The two regimes before Bielema feel like an eternity ago. A nine-win season would not only be good for the present, but the future. And Sunday was all about the future, immediate and long-term.
"Coach (Hayden) Fry used to call it plowing up snakes. You get to see these things that are lying under the ground that you don’t usually see, then all of a sudden they pop up and they’re a really big deal," Bielema said. "I think we’ve minimized those over the course over the last four years, and we’re excited about the opportunity."
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