FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard Mitch Smothers said the message has been loud and clear to offensive linemen since spring practice began last month.
Don’t cost the Razorbacks five yards because of pre-snap penalties.
Arkansas has implemented an interesting way to show any violators the consequences through the first three weeks of spring practice. Instant punishment.
“The first week we all had to — as an offensive line — we had do five up-downs,” Smothers said after Tuesday’s practice. “Then they changed it the next day to right away the next person has to do five. It’s good discipline.”
Arkansas’ construction under new coach Bret Bielema is well under way this spring and one of the areas of emphasis has been curbing careless mistakes on both sides of the ball. The most visible targets have been the pre-snap penalties on offense like false starts and Bielema said the reason is simple.
He believes there are more games lost than won in college football.
“A lot of times teams don’t learn how to not beat themselves,” Bielema said. “They commit offsides, pre-snap penalties, time on the clock, lined up offsides, illegal formations, whatever. They take away before the play is even started. As a football team that wants to win championships, that would never be acceptable.
“What we have to do is learn how 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.”
The offensive line, especially, found out Bielema and the Arkansas coach staff means business during Saturday’s scrimmage. Unofficially, there were seven offsides penalties on offensive linemen during the 74-play session.
Each time the flag was dropped by an official, the guilty lineman jogged off the field, flopped to the ground and picked himself up five times. He missed the next play, too, before being allowed to return to the huddle for the next scrimmage snap.
Offensive line coach Sam Pittman said five up-downs isn’t exactly strenuous punishment for conditioned players. But there are other consequences.
“It’s embarrassing more than anything,” Pittman said of the immediate discipline handed out. “Coach does a lot of team oriented discipline and things of that nature, which I haven’t always been around. I think it’s pretty cool.”
Time will tell if it proves helpful. But it’s hard to imagine Arkansas being any worse off than it was on offense in 2012, when pre-snap penalties seemingly wiped out big plays and stalled promising drives every week.
Tight end Austin Tate admitted the mistakes were glaring last season, but believes this spring’s early emphasis can only help Arkansas clean them up before the fall.
“We’ve tried to tone down on that,” Tate said. “Whenever we don’t, we get punished for it. Obviously we’re six, seven practices in now. You’ve got to give it a little bit of time to catch on, but now is the time everybody needs to crank down. We’re here. The jitters should be gone. We need to just calm down and play football.”
Pittman was happy to point out progress during Tuesday’s practice.
After the sloppiness dominated his group’s performance in the scrimmage, Arkansas made some adjustments with the snap count when it returned to the field. There was a dramatic change in offensive line penalties in practice – nobody jumped.
“I think it’s the only way you can win,” Pittman said. “Certainly we’ve done a little bit of different things with our snap count to try to make that a little bit better for us maybe. Let’s get set and go a little quicker and different things. But you just can’t beat yourself. I don’t care if you’re the Dallas Cowboys or us or whoever.
“It’s hard to win in this league, in their league, in anybody’s league if you’re shooting yourself in the foot. So we’ve made a big emphasis on that over the weekend.”
Smothers said the Razorbacks understand as they continue to build toward 2013.
Their aim is to become a group known for its toughness and physical play under a new coaching staff. Not one remembered for its careless mistakes once again.
“It’s all about discipline,” Smothers said. “It just builds character and helps you to be more disciplined so you don’t have those pre-snap penalties.”