FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas won’t play its first Southeastern Conference game until Sept. 28, when Texas A&M travels to Razorback Stadium.
But don’t tell cornerback Carroll Washington. The junior college transfer, who is participating in his first spring practice after enrolling at Arkansas this winter, said he is treating today’s scrimmage like it’s a conference battle.
“That’s the only thing we’ve got right now coming up before the spring game,” Washington said, referring to Arkansas’ scrimmage opportunities. “I’ve got to go out and perform. Every day you’re critiqued by the coaches, so I’ve got to be able to go out there and perform to the best of my abilities.”
Coach Bret Bielema and the rest of his staff will get their first chance to evaluate the Razorbacks in a game-like setting today, when Arkansas is expected to hold its first spring scrimmage in Razorback Stadium.
The workout – like all practices this spring – is closed to the public. But Washington and other Arkansas players said it doesn’t matter if it’s a sellout crowd or an empty stadium. It’s another important day to make an impression.
“I’m taking it like it’s game one,” said safety TQ Coleman, who also is a junior college transfer. “First game. Here it goes. You actually get to tackle and take them to the ground. Pop, pop, full speed. There aren’t too many days in a program like this that you get to go full speed, because you’ve got to take care of your players. ...
“This is the first time. So I’m really looking forward to it.”
Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash said the Razorbacks are using their first spring on campus to evaluate players as they build for 2013. Ash said it’s being treated as a “NFL Draft day” and there is open competition at every position.
It includes quarterback, where Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell are competing for the starting job. Both players are expected to get ample time today, giving offensive coordinator Jim Chaney a glimpse at how they handle game-like situations.
The run game will be emphasized on offense as Arkansas continues to install its new system. Running backs Jonathan Williams and Nate Holmes are expected to get the bulk of the carries at a position that will be vital to Arkansas’ success next season.
“I'm looking for good tempo, good rhythm and ball security,” Chaney said Tuesday, when he was asked what to expect. “Play hard and hold onto the football. That would be it, and just get as physical as we can possibly be. That's what we're trying to do right now. Cliché, no doubt, but that's exactly what we're trying to do.”
Arkansas was known for running scrimmages that stretched to 100, 120 or 150 plays under the previous coaching staff. But the Razorbacks aren’t expected to run through an extreme volume of plays during scrimmage sessions under Bielema.
In fact, Bielema said earlier this month Arkansas would likely use portions of their scrimmage days for drill work. Then they’ll hold 40- to 60-play scrimmages where “we’re taking people to the ground, playing tackle football.”
Bielema, as he and the rest of the staff has stressed all spring, are looking for quality over quantity as they ease players into new systems on both sides of the ball.
“Go out and have fun, play hard. That's all,” Arkansas linebackers coach Randy Shannon said about his expectations. “They're going to make mistakes. That's part of learning and why you practice. If they go out and fly around and play with a lot of enthusiasm and play hard until the scrimmage is over, then I'll be happy.”
Arkansas linebacker Myke Tavarres — another junior college transfer participating in his first spring with the Razorbacks — said Arkansas is eager to show exactly what they’ve learned through five practices in today’s scrimmage.
“I definitely expect high tempo, fast pace and it's going to be good,” Tavarres said. “It's going to be really nice to see what we can do at full speed.”