STARKVILLE, Miss. — Former Arkansas center Travis Swanson was asked if he was the best player at his position in the 2014 NFL Draft last week.
He wouldn’t make a bold declaration. Instead, Swanson took a diplomatic approach during his time in front of the media at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.
“I’ve never watched any of the film on the other guys, so I’m not going to come right out and say that I believe that,” Swanson told reporters in Indianapolis. “I’m going to come here and try to impress as many teams as I can that I’m going to be their No. 1 guy. That’s obviously a long process with the four to five days that you’re here and all it takes is just one team to like you.”
Swanson hopes he accomplished it during his four-day stay at the NFL’s high-profile job fair. The former Razorback — who is regarded among the top centers in the draft — wrapped up his trip with on-the-field work at Lucas Oil Field.
He was one of four Arkansas players invited to participate in the event, joining place kicker Zach Hocker, defensive tackle Robert Thomas and defensive end Chris Smith. Hocker has wrapped up his combine stay as well, while Smith and Thomas are scheduled to remain in Indianapolis through Monday.
Swanson — who started every game during his four-year career — is regarded as the top Arkansas draft prospect for 2014. In fact, NFLDraftScout.com projects Swanson as a second-round pick and the top center available.
“I’m a tough player that’s a leader, a very smart player who knows how to work,” Swanson said when asked what he would bring to the NFL. “I guess I take a blue-collar mentality. I come to work every single day.”
Swanson, who also participated in the Senior Bowl last month, told reporters he had an informal interview with the Cleveland Browns in Indianapolis. He also had former interviews with Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets.
His goal between now and May is to make sure one team is impressed enough to select him. Swanson said it will “mean the world” to him and his family.
“But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that the work’s over,” Swanson said. “It’s just beginning.”
Jennings Contract Info
Arkansas will pay new defensive backs coach Clay Jennings $320,000 annually, according to a letter-of-agreement obtained through a Freedom of Information request last week.
Jennings’ deal runs through June 30, 2015 and includes a $100,000 buyout through Feb. 15, 2015. The buyout drops to $50,000 after that date. The buyout will be waived if Jennings accepts a head coaching or defensive coordinator position.
His salary places Arkansas’ pool for assistants at $3.205 million for the 2014 season, which is a slight decrease from 2013. Arkansas’ nine assistant coaches earned $3.225 million during the 2013 season.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney remains the highest-paid assistant on Bielema’s staff, earning $550,000. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith and offensive line coach Sam Pittman are earning $500,000 each. Senior associate head coach Randy Shannon is fourth on the staff after earning a raise bumping his salary to $400,000.
Hire Coming Soon
Bielema completed his coaching staff by hiring Jennings last week.
But he still has one position to fill after parting ways with Chris Hauser, the program’s director of recruiting, earlier this month. Bielema said he’s planning to have someone in place by the end of the week.
“I have two candidates lined up to come in and see us,” Bielema said. “I’m flying to see one tomorrow, and we will go from there.”
Two More Suspensions
Arkansas running back Alex Collins returned to the team after serving a week-long suspension. But two more players were being disciplined last week.
Bielema said offensive lineman Mitch Smothers and wide receiver D’Arthur Cowan were suspended from team activities for a week. Bielema said the suspensions are something he commonly does to make sure players are paying attention.
“Certain kids, you can run them all you want, you can log roll them, you can get them up and do whatever you want to them,” Bielema said. “But the thing that really matters is when you take the game away from them. Kids have to understand that if you don’t do things right, at some point, someone other than me is going to take it away from them, either the NCAA or eligibility or something is going to take the game away from you. Fortunately it’s me right now.”
Jennings said he didn’t get a chance to evaluate much of Arkansas’ personnel in the defensive backfield. But he does have plenty of familiarity with a couple of Hogs.
Jennings said he recruited cornerbacks Tevin Mitchel and Will Hines while he was at TCU. Hines and Jennings are both from Waco.
“I’m excited about having an opportunity to work with those young men,” Jennings said. “Once again, I haven’t had a chance to study the roster. I’m excited about having a chance to work with Coach Smith defensively. And the one thing we want to do, we just want to be able to put product on the field on the back end that the University of Arkansas can be proud of.
“We also want to put a product out there that’s going to be physical, and that’s going to be indicative of a Coach Bielema football team and a Hog Nation defense.”
Harrison Keegan of the Daily Citizen contributed to this report.