The Arkansas Razorbacks’ open scrimmage last Saturday wasn’t all I had hoped it would be, but that simple fact might turn out to be a positive note for the upcoming season.
As part of Razorback Fan Day, fans and the media were allowed to watch the last hour of the Hogs’ scrimmage. However, most of the starters got all their work in before fans were allowed into Razorback Stadium.
So, all the returning Hogs whom fans were looking forward to seeing like quarterback Austin Allen, running back Devwah Whaley, linebacker Dre Greenlaw, cornerback Ryan Pulley, defensive end Sosa Agim were not on display.
Based on reports from ArkansasRazorbacks.com, the UA’s official athletic department website, those Razorbacks performed well. Likewise freshman like running back Chase Hayden and wide receiver Koilan Jackson reportedly continued to make plays. Defensive back Kamren Curl reportedly made a “highlight-reel” interception several plays after making a solid tackle to get off the field on third down.
In his post-practice press conference, Bielema backed up the report with his comments. From the standpoint of a fan who loves the running game and what it can open up for the play-action passing game, the fact that Bielema compared Whaley, senior transfer David Williams and Hayden to the trio of backs he had at Wisconsin in John Clay, Montee Ball, and James White sounds promising.
In 2010, Clay rushed for 1,012 yards and 14 touchdowns on 187 carries, Ball added 996 yards and 18 touchdowns on 163 carries, and White piled up 1,056 yards and 14 touchdowns on 156 carries for a Badgers team that won the Big 10, made it to the Rose Bowl, and finished 7th in the nation.
Understand, Bielema was not predicting that type of production for the upcoming season. He just said the running styles of his current backs and the way they complement each other reminds him of his Wisco Trio.
It’s really astounding to think the Hogs are in that good of shape in the backfield after last year’s leading rusher Rawleigh Williams III retired from the game after suffering his second neck injury since 2015.
It’s a testament to the building blocks Bielema has been putting into place at Arkansas. It seems the he truly is saying “next” when a player goes down at the running back spot.
That said depth is always tenuous at running back and really every other position in the SEC, but Bielema seems to think there will be a revival of the running game this season.
Now, he did mention that Whaley and Williams need to improve their pass blocking, which will be key in giving Allen the freedom he needs to make plays in the passing game. However, it sounds like a key area of the Razorbacks’ offense is coming together.
If the running backs are looking good, then the offensive line must be doing its job, too. The offensive line is the foundation of any good offense, and the Hogs might need to be better than good offensively as the defense adjust to its new 3-4 scheme.
No matter how good the skilled players may be, if the big guys up front can’t push and pull their weight, an offense will be in trouble. A case in point was last year, when Arkansas’ inexperienced line gave up 35 sacks and had trouble in short-yardage running situations.
Bielema did say after the scrimmage that guard Johnny Gibson and tackle Brian Wallace needed to be challenged to perform at a higher level, but the fact that the starting five of those two, center Frank Ragnow, guard Hjalte Froholdt, and tackle Colton Jackson has remained intact since the last fourth of last season is promising to the shell game offensive line coach Kurt Anderson was forced to play last year.
Another telling sign that the future might be brighter for the Hogs is a recent meeting Bielema had with a portion of his team.
The Head Hog dismissed his starters and the freshmen and had a come-to-Jesus meeting with the remainder of the team, the guys who are vying for playing time but unproven in SEC play.
Bielema said he told them that they basically need to step up or that a talented group of freshmen would step over them for playing time.
While that meeting wasn’t comfortable for those involved, it is the sign of a program that is getting stronger.
Bielema said that the coaching staff had a personnel meeting scheduled for Sunday (Aug. 13).
With the Aug. 31 season opener against Florida A&M just 17 days out, the staff will soon if not already break the team down into varsity and scout teams. Scout teams, of course, mimic the opponents in practice for the varsity.
It is an important role, but it’s also one that means those players aren’t on the current travel roster or being penciled into the game plan or even for a back-up role at the moment. It’s not where you want to be if you are a redshirt sophomore or a junior. In football, seniority only has meaning if you are productive.
Every season brings new names and faces to the fore. We’re already hearing names like Chase Hayden, Kamren Curl, Chevin Calloway and Koilan Jackson.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the depth chart plays out before the first game.