Bret Bielema's first spring practice update

First, thanks for coming.

I wasn't trying to punish anybody by closing practice. I just felt that for me as a first-year head coach, for our staff coming in for the first time and for our players working with my staff I thought it was important for us to get all on the same page and let us have an understanding of who we are and what we are before we let some people in.

I do promise at some point in the four weeks we have after spring break to let the media in and see us in action and have an opportunity to see our guys work and see our players interact with one another and an opportunity to show you what I've been building.

After three practices, I couldn't be more excited. I can guarantee you this on December 5th when I came in here and addressed the media and the entire Razorback Nation I was excited as a head coach. There were a lot of things I didn't know about Arkansas, our program, our facilities, our players, our administration and the state of Arkansas, but I was excited. I can tell you it's been multiplied by a thousand since then. I've been encouraged by anything that's come across my desk.

After three practices, by NCAA rules we have to be helmets only (for the first two). They decided to take away our pads at the beginning, which makes no sense to me, but we have to abide by those rules and really try and use them as teaching periods. We had minimal contact between the offense, defense and special teams and it was more about getting ourselves right about how we do a drill, how we execute in the beginning and start of every drill. Also, how my coaches are going to interact with one another in the position on the football field.

Yesterday was the first day in big-boy pads. We were in full pads from head to toe. The kids got excited and our coaches got excited and everything got amplified by what we did. We got sloppy in the details but the effort, enthusiasm and intensity was unwavering.

I told our coaches three things, the first is our players are very open to coaching and be careful what you tell them and tell them exactly what you want and how you want it to be executed because they listen to everything you're saying. I told them we have a group of players who are very hungry and we need to feed them on a daily basis and make sure they improve and get better from day to day and get a chance to be ready at the end. The last thing is that we have a group of players that are very talented. Certain positions are better than others, but as a group we have a talented football team that we want to make sure that we allow them to play as fast and as physical as possible and we don't want to slow them down with verbiage and we don't want to slow them down by making them think too much or talk too much.

That's a little bit of where we are at. I know you are going to ask specifically by positions. I think there is no doubt on offense the key is going to be who is going to be our trigger puller, and I think Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell both have shown that they've been ahead of the curve and I would say that A.J. Derby has shown that he is definitely a guy that can manage a game. He has been in that position and impressed us. He is a thirsty kid, who is always eager to learn. (Taylor) Reed and (Brian) Buehner both show flashes at times. Obviously Reed has played in the college level before and Buehner hasn't. I would think that the more reps we can get to those five guys the better off we are going to be, especially the top two in Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell.

The offensive line is a group that works very diligent and has really taken to Coach (Sam) Pittman and all the things he brings to it. They have had some dramatic changes in physical body types there with what Coach (Ben Herbert) has been able to do with them. They have all been very impressive with their work ethic and everything that goes with it. We are trying to find our top-five guys who will fit in there.

At the tight end position we haven't had a huge emphasis on this prior to our staff arriving, but we have a group of guys with (Mitchell) Loewen, (Alex) Voelzke and (Jeremy) Sprinkle that I think are going to give us a chance to have some success and obviously freshman Hunter Henry coming in there.

Demetrius) Dean we may move to the fullback position and try him in there. Demetrius Dean is from right here in Fayetteville and we want to try him at the fullback position behind Kiero (Small) and see what he can do.

With wide receiver I would say the top-three guys are (Demetrius) Wilson, (Javontee) Herndon and (Keon) Hatcher have been very impressive with a great work ethic and a great attitude. (Julian) Horton, (D'Arthur) Cowan, (Mekale) McKay and (Eric) Hawkins have some ability and we just need to keep bringing them along.

Running back Jonathan Williams has been very impressive. He was one of the first kids to come into my office and sit down and visit. I really like the way he approaches the game and his mentality. Nate Holmes is probably one of the more explosive players I've ever been around in my coaching career. He is a very dynamic, explosive player. Kody Walker has gotten quite a few reps and we welcomed him back, obviously he had a traumatic injury. We did change his mojo a little bit. We switched him from No. 40 to No. 24 and let him have a change of venue there and we are excited about that.

If there is one guy that has been a champion for me in every way shape and form in everything we have asked him to do is Kiero Small. From being the best recruiting host in December and January to being a physical specimen that transformed his body and lost almost 20 pounds from last fall to where he is today in eight weeks with Coach Herbert. There are some before and after photos that are pretty impressive transitions.

Defensively it all starts up front just like on the offensive side of the ball it has to start up front with the offensive line and defensive line. I think our front four, (Trey) Flowers, (Byran) Jones, (Robert) Thomas and (Chris) Smith are very explosive, very gifted, very hungry and very eager. They have bought into what Coach (Charlie) Partridge has been preaching every day. There are a lot of guys who can fill in, (Deatrich) Wise, (Darrell) Kelly-Thomas, (Horace) Arkadie, (DeMarcus) Hodge all have given us some depth.

At linebacker, we probably have the biggest area to grow. Right now (Jarrett) Lake has been a nice surprise for us. (Daunte) Carr and (Otha) Peters we are using at the mike linebacker. (Myke) Tavarres and (A.J.) Turner we are using at the will. We are going to start some guys around in there just to get a little bit better feel.

Then in the back end, the two safeties, (Rohan) Gaines and (Eric) Bennett have been impressive football-IQ wise. Obviously both have played a lot of football and are going to get better at every snap. I think between Tevin Mitchel, (Will) Hines and a little bit of Carroll Washington, those three will make up the corner spot. (Davyon) McKinney is a great effort player and we might actually look at a possible transition to some safety as well, but he is a little bit of a work in progress.

With the kicking game the only thing we have worked on is PATs and field goals and (Zach) Hocker has been the steadiest performer there. We have been hitting punts, but they haven't been under protection and it hasn't been on the design of the punt game.

That's just a little synopsis there.

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on the QBs) - "We have to get better every day. Everybody wants to jump to the end of spring. I've got to get better every day. If our players buy into that I think we'll be OK. I'd love to have a first team All-SEC player at every position, but the reality is you have to work with what you have and where you're at. Three things are important to me in quarterback play. First thing is you've got to know how to manage a game. You have to handle the huddle, the communication, the snap; just do the things that a quarterback should be able to do. The second thing is being able to execute the play. If we have a five-yard dig he's got to be able to execute it, if we've got an outside handoff we've got to execute it, if we've got a bootleg to our right he's got to be able to execute it. Whatever the play design is, he's got to execute it. The third thing and most prevalent to me is a quarterback needs to be triumphant in triumphant times. If you want a championship team, he's got to be at his best when everyone else is at their worst. That truly defines a quarterback."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on the QB rotation) - "I've never had a quarterback rotation. I've never been a quarterback-by-committee guy. There may be a segment where one quarterback has the leading skill set, but on most accounts you want that guy to be a signal caller on every play."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on the excitement level he's seen from fans) - "650 people in Manila, 500 people in Mountain Home, 2,000 people in Little Rock, I stop at a gas station and 5 people come up and welcome me; it's anything and everything. Administratively, to have the support that Jeff Long has given me. There is a lot that goes toward building a program on a day-to-day basis that nobody ever knows or hears about, it's that kind of stuff that makes it great. Personally, we just bought a home here in Fayetteville and meeting the people throughout that process, from realtors to the people who are going to turn on your water, your electricity, to the people you buy carpet from, it's just all been awesome. We're in the process of trying to sell one of our other houses. The month of March has been good to us. I met my wife in March, we got engaged in March and we got married in March, different years of course, and then just bought a home on March 13th. I'd like to sell one in March too, that'd be nice."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on what he's seen on film) - "I've learned this in my profession as I transition to other jobs, and I haven't done it very often, I didn't watch a stitch of film. I didn't want to have any preconceived notions about a player that I didn't know. I watched a little bit of SEC film just because I was intrigued by it. To be honest I watched a lot of SEC vs. SEC that didn't involve us just to watch a lot of good football. I really believe first impressions last a lifetime, I'm a big believer in that saying, and I didn't want my first impressions to be anything but the truth. I didn't watch a lot of film of our guys until we got a chance to work with them on a daily basis in winter drills, so we did skills and drills where there was no football, there was no dummy and there were no pads. It was just about how do they move, how do they react to coaching, do they resist or do they accept? Through these first three days, the kids will probably tell you I've become a little more vocal with each practice because I didn't want to jump all over a kid on the first day if that really wasn't what he was. I understand kids are going to be nervous, excited and anxious. As I get to know them, they'll get to know me. That part has been fun."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on offensive lineman) - "Different guys have transformed. I would take (David) Hurd for instance. When I found out he was a starter, physically he wasn't what you would think at that point. But now he looks like a player; looks like a tackle, acts like a tackle, walks like a tackle, talks like a tackle. We're beginning to take baby steps forward. If you look at Cordale Boyd, from a kid that didn't play to a kid to where he's at after three practices is intriguing. If Travis Swanson isn't going to be the best center in the college football, I'd like to see who is. I've had a couple of good centers in the places I've been at, some highly drafted centers, and I think Travis is right there. He might be a little taller and longer which gives him a chance to go even higher."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on QB leadership) - "I think the quarterback is the field general of your offense. Your quarterback and your linebacker on defense have to be able to get things right out there on the field when the coaches aren't around. My philosophy is to be really good at a few things rather than mediocre at a lot of different things. At quarterback, that has to be the overriding philosophy."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on junior college transfers) - "I would say (Johnathan) McClure has exceeded our expectations. He's trimmed his weight down, lost a total of 10 pounds and looks really positive. Carroll Washington is running with the twos, you can see him have flashes out there. He's up 15 pounds, but the bad news is he was only 164 when we signed him so he's just getting into the range of a physical college player. TQ Coleman is a safety that has one speed and that's 100 miles per hour. He's running with our twos, probably the hardest working DB out there. Myke Tavarres is by far the most athletic linebacker. He's just raw. He hasn't sat down and learned the fundamentals. Randy Shannon has down a great job of bringing him along."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on distribution of snaps for the QBs) - "It's not going to be evenly distributed as we move forward. It has been through day three, but we have to start finding out who our top three are and getting them the reps they need. We'll split the primary reps amongst the quarterbacks until we get it right. It's easy to get two quarterbacks equal reps in the spring, but after that it's very difficult."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on his approach to junior days) - "There used to be a traditional form of nailing a date down where you have 40 juniors that all bring two guests and all of a sudden you've got 100 people and you can't see them individualized attention. We've had a little bit of it these last couple of Saturdays, but now in the coming weeks when we have spring breaks we will have a lot of days where kids are going to come over with their parents for a Monday afternoon and get some academics, get some weight-room education through Coach Herbert and watch our Tuesday practice and they can leave after that. It's a lot better way. We can take them on campus and show them a classroom, we can take them in the facilities and show them our new facility they will walk into in July. I believe in a personal touch to recruiting, trying to stand apart from all the rest, and it's been very, very positive."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on setting the toughness mindset in the team) - "It is a process. I don't think you can tap somebody on the head and tell them 'Go play physical'. You have to teach them on a daily basis what that means. Yesterday we went through a high-intensity, full-padded practice and some of our players began to break down. We have to push them through that barrier and can't put our heads in the sand, we have to build this. I'm not going to say we're the most talented team on the field next year, but I can guarantee that our effort and coaching technique will prepare you to be the most physical team on the field every day in the fall. That's not talent driven, that's want driven and I think our players understand that."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on depth) - "I don't think we're deficient in any area. Do we want to be deeper? Absolutely. Do we want more and want better? Absolutely, but it's our jobs as coaches to make them better and recruit the best talent."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on leadership within the team) - "It's a little bit too early for that. I think our kids are trying to get a feel of what they are and who they are. Some guys that stand out to me up front are Byran Jones and Chris Smith. Byran came up to me yesterday and wanted to know what we could do better as a defense. He's an engaging kid. He's come into my office on multiple occasions with ideas, and I am really intrigued by that. Offensively, you will see some personalities come out. At two main positions, Jonathan Williams and the quarterback have had minimal playing experience and I expect leadership to come more as they grow. A guy that I've noticed is Travis Swanson. He's as good a natural born leader as anybody I've ever seen."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on building the program) - "We're just going to get good at what we know. As we move through the process we'll get some nuances in there if we find a player that has a particular skill set or can do something better than another player in a certain situation. We aren't going to push the envelope to try and put in a playbook that won't be used until the first game. Like I tell my coaches, slow it down and make it great. Don't hurry and make it average, slow it down and make it great."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on moving around players at LB) - "What I'm talking about is, is Myke Tavarres better at a will or a sam, is (Jarrett) Lake better at a sam or a will? A little bit of that is defined by Randy (Shannon) and Coach (Chris) Ash, how we fit them in. For instance, at my seven years at Wisconsin some years we played a field and boundary linebacker and some years we played a sam and a will. Those two are kind of independent of one another, find out their skill sets. The mike is a guy that has to play in the middle both ways. Martrell Spaight is a linebacker we are very excited to get on campus. I never want to put out expectations that I don't feel are realistic, but everything I've learned and witnessed and seen from Brooks Ellis, a young man who is going to be coming in as a true freshman, would indicate to me that he might be able to give us some help as well."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on QBs Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell) - "I think both of them are a little bit different. Brandon Allen throws the deep ball very nice, he's engaged, he understands it, he's a football kid, obviously, with his dad being a coach and all that goes into it. I think that part is very evident. Brandon Mitchell is a tremendous competitor. The kids really respond to him. He's got a live arm in certain throws. He's reverted back once in a while where he will call a play by the old system and everybody's looking at him like he's got three heads. If there's one thing I would get across to our quarterbacks in general, is I need to have an urgency out of them to be great. If the quarterback position isn't a junkie, if he's not a guy who's banging on your door every day to be learning, we're not going to get where we need to be. That particular position in general just needs a whole lot of urgency."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on moving Demetrius Dean to FB) - "He is going to have to trim that down. He obviously put on a little weight since Fayetteville High. He is very gifted athletically and talented with his hands. He catches the ball as good as anybody. What we are going to do offensively with the tight end position he just can't do those things as well as he can do a fullback position. To get a guy in there physically that can get done what he needs to get done is going to be a lot about what Demetrius can take on in a short amount of time."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on if the team will scrimmage during Saturday practices) - "The NCAA does limit you in that regard as well. Only a certain number of practices can be dedicated to contact scrimmages as well, which means you take them to the ground and play full scrimmage football. The way I see Saturdays as I see them now, obviously I can change my mind because I'm the head coach and that's what I get to do. What I love is to have a 25- to 35-play practice where we are doing an inside drill, a skelly period where we get in tempo and we are taking communication and get anywhere from a 40- to 60-play scrimmage where we are taking people to the ground and playing tackle football. With the amount of cutting that it takes at different positions a lot of it depends on the ability of our running backs obviously. I do like practices that engage them both. We will have officials out there. One of the first things I've emphasized if you watch one of our practices is if you have a pre-snap penalty in any way shape or form you are removed from the contest from that play and you have to do a certain amount of physical repercussions and you have to sit out an entire play before you are put back in. It's just a way to ingrain our type of play. I've said this before that you as a football team there are more games that are lost on any given Saturday than are won, and by that I mean this, obviously you have a winner and a loser in every game but a lot of times teams don't learn how to not beat themselves. With off sides, pre-snap penalties, time on the clock, lined up offsides, illegal formations or whatever, they take away before the play is even started. As a football team that wants to win championships that's just a way that would never be acceptable. They give up three turnovers, they fumble a ball, they throw an interception on a first down, which is unacceptable, the defense drops a quick and easy interception and what we have to do is learn to play winning football, which means a lot of little things that are very detailed but are the biggest things when it comes to winning."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on if there are any other position switches) - "We just met as a staff and went through the depth chart from A-Z and there are a couple kids we are going to talk to. It could be as simple as moving a corner to safety, safety to linebacker. It could be moving tackle to guard, center to guard and all that stuff. Nothing drastic on moving opposite sides of the ball. At the end of the spring I might do that, but as of now, no."

Head Coach Bret Bielema (on the overall health of the team) - "I think the health of the team has been very positive as we move forward, nothing to cost anybody any extended period of time. Austin Tate had shoulder surgery after the season and has yet to be cleared full go. Kody Walker is not 100 percent full go, but those are the only guys as of right now that are limited in any way, shape or form."

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Derek Satterfield
University of Arkansas