FAYETTEVILLE — While attending 11 of his now former Razorbacks auditioning before scouts of all 32 NFL teams on last week’s Pro Day at the Walker Pavilion indoor practice facility, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema previewed some things to look for in the upcoming spring football practices.
Following this week’s spring break at the UA, the Razorbacks on March 29 commence the first of their NCAA allowed 15 spring football practice dates. Spring practice culminates April 23 with the annual Red-White spring game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Quarterback, with fifth-year senior three-year starter Brandon Allen graduated among the 11 auditioning on Pro Day, is the position most spring football discussed by fans and pundits, but it’s far from the only contested position, Bielema said.
"Everybody wants to talk about the quarterbacks, but there’s going to be some great positions (competition)," Bielema said. "Offensive line, D-line, we’ve got some great battles going on. In the back end, as well. I’m really excited about this group."
Some new competition overseen by some new coaches.
With three-year offensive line coach Sam Pittman now coaching Georgia’s offensive line, one-year running backs coach/special teams coordinator Jemal Singleton now in the NFL coaching running backs for the Indianapolis Colts and two-year defensive backfield coach Clay Jennings now coaching the Texas secondary, former Buffalo Bills assistant offensive line coach Kurt Anderson coaches the Arkansas offensive line, former Kansas running backs coach Reggie Mitchell coaches the Arkansas running backs and former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads coaches the Arkansas secondary.
"Our three new coaches have done a tremendous job of jumping in," Bielema said. "I’m really excited to see those guys coach."
In Bielema’s previous three Arkansas seasons, Singleton last season was the only one with a special teams coordinator title.
No coach will have that title in 2016, Bielema said, noting special teams is a group effort and was last year, too.
"I am going to handle punt return just like last year," Bielema said while disclosing the special teams assignments for Rhoads (kickoff coverage) and Mitchell (kickoff returns).
Bielema said he sees the merits of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s controversial move taking the Wolverines to Florida to practice over spring break but said he believes his Razorbacks are better served enjoying spring break as time off for themselves.
"We recruit kids and basically tell them, ‘You get home three times a year. You get your winter break, your spring break and then your summer break.’ To some of those kids, that’s a big deal to get home."
With 2015 starting offensive linemen Sebastian Tretola,Denver Kirkland and Mitch Smothers among those participating in Pro Day, only senior-be Dan Skipper and junior-to-be Frank Ragnow return as sure starters on the offensive line.
And only tackle Skipper is sure where he will start.
A backup center to Smothers in 2014 and the starting right guard in 2015, Ragnow will be the starting center or a starting guard in 2016 depending not only on which position suits him most working at both this spring but how redshirt freshman Zach Rogers progresses at center and how sophomore-to-be Hjalte Froholdt adjusts moving from the defensive line to the offensive line and whether January enrolled junior college transfer Deon Malone better fits at center or guard.
"We’re going to get our five best guys on the field," Bielema said. "We’ll kind of take that first week to figure it out, and really all four weeks if we need to."
A native of Denmark whose participation in American football began later than his peers, it might seem a tall order for Froholdt to learn both guard and center upon movie from the D-line to the O-line.
"He’s doing guard primarily, but he’s so smart," Bielema said. "He looks like a natural (center). That’s why I want to see if he can do it."
The momentum that senior-to-be defensive end Deatrich Wise generated from midseason on continued through the winter program, Bielema said while also extolling January enrolled freshmen defensive ends McTelvin "Sosa" Agim of Hope and T.J. Smith.
"Deatrich Wise has taken a huge step in leadership and just everything," Bielema said. "I’m really, really excited about what he’s brought to the table. T.J. Smith, really, really has caught the coaches’ eyes. Sosa, he’s as advertised. He’s pretty special."