Four Downs: Bielema Sets Practice Mood With Music


1. Music Man

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema invited fans to attend Saturday’s scrimmage, opening practice for the first time this preseason. He also treated the estimated crowd of 500 in attendance to some reggae during the early portions of practice.

Music blared over the loud speakers while the Razorbacks began work during the first few minutes of the workout. Bielema said the plan came to fruition roughly five minutes before practice began, when he handed over his iPod so it could be plugged into the loud speakers in the Razorback Stadium.

“Kids love music,” Bielema said. “It kind of gets it popping a little bit and that’s the only reason you do it. But somebody wants rock, somebody wants rap, country, gospel. So you have to blend it. (Saturday) was my mix. We’ll figure it out from here.

“It seemed to put everyone in a good mood. I was in a good mood.”

It was the first time this spring Bielema had a soundtrack for the early portion of practice. It also was the first time this spring players practiced in front of fans.

Bielema said he wanted most of the spring closed so players and coaches could work in a controlled environment as they got a feel for each other. But he began thinking about opening a practice two weeks ago and announced Friday afternoon the scrimmage would be the first opportunity to watch the Razorbacks.

“Before we even started I knew I’d open up one just to give everybody a chance to come in and see what we’re talking about,” Bielema said. “Plus, it energizes kids.

“I knew getting through the hump week here we had to bring a little bit of energy and the good man upstairs worked out with some weather. Our kids were pumped and excited about it. Hopefully we gave everybody a good little show.”

2. Small’s Big Contributions

Arkansas fullback Kiero Small got his share of scrimmage carries Saturday, rushing for 17 yards and a touchdown on six attempts. Some of them even came with Small at tailback in a goal line package that includes Patrick Arinze, another bulky back.

“He brings an attitude to our offense that you can’t put a price tag on,” Bielema said of Small. “He plays extremely low to the ground. He’s extremely powerful. He’s got a big, big (backside) and in football that’s a good thing.”

Bielema said the package with Small lined up at tailback is called “21 Bam or 22 Bam.” The two running backs combine to weigh 500 pounds.

“Together they weigh as much as our right guard and right tackle,” Bielema joked.

“But he brings just a little something to us. Kiero made a nice play last Saturday down on the goal line that just kind of woke everyone up. So we continue to grow that package, something I’m very excited about and he’s very talented at it.”

3. Jones Stands Out

Walk-on linebacker Austin Jones turned in a productive scrimmage Saturday, finishing with seven tackles, three for losses, one sack and a fumble recovery. The senior worked with the second-team defense and has impressed Bielema.

“He kind of reminds me of a guy who is always in the right place,” Bielema said. “He’s very smart. He’s got some good instincts. He probably can play all three (linebacker) positions, probably more Sam and Mike than anything, but extremely intelligent. He’s been coached very well.”

Jones scored the scrimmage’s first touchdown when he scooped up a fumble by running back Jojo Wynn and returned it 30 yards. Bielema said it wasn’t his first touchdown this spring. He returned an interception for a touchdown this week.

“He’s kind one of those guys who’s always in the right spot about the right time.”

4. Extra Points

First-team tackle David Hurd left the scrimmage with what appeared to be a minor knee injury. The senior missed some time, but did return to finish the practice. Bielema said Hurd “wanted to get back out there badly.” … Receiver Keon Hatcher had to be helped off the field after being hit in the midsection by safety TQ Coleman on an overthrown pass. Coleman was penalized on the play for hitting a defenseless receiver. Hatcher eventually returned after getting his wind knocked out. … Linebacker AJ Turner has been limited by a wrist injury this spring, but it didn’t keep him out of Saturday’s scrimmage. The sophomore worked with the third-team defense late in the practice. … Tight end Mitchell Loewen (ankle) and running back Kody Walker (leg) didn’t participate in Saturday’s scrimmage. Loewen was injured in last week’s scrimmage, but Bielema said he’ll return to practice next week. Walker is being held out of contact drills as he continues to work his way back from last season’s broken leg. … Walk-on receiver Chris Saunders led the Razorbacks in receptions Saturday. Saunders caught four passes for 37 yards, hauling in the only completions from third-team quarterback A.J. Derby.

— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau