The Arkansas football team wrapped up its 15 spring practices last Saturday with the annual Red-White Spring Game in front of 30,000 fans in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Head coach Bret Bielema spoke about his impressions from the spring and how the team will move forward during the summer.
"I thought our guys made some nice strides," Coach Bielema said. "I thought our guys really improved and we capitalized on our 15 practices. Obviously, you always want to be better, but I couldn't be happier with the progress, especially with some of our players that didn't play a lot last year and the way they came along and came out of it relatively injury free. We're excited about the coming summer and the transition where the NCAA is going to allow us to meet with our players. I think that's a real benefit for a program like ours that is trying to come up from the bottom and get to a place in the SEC that we're comfortable being in."
The Red-White Spring Game attendance is tied for 16th-most in the country this season, and Coach Bielema has felt the support from Razorback fans all over the state as he continues to build the program.
"I saw that there were a lot of people that showed up to our game and gave great support to the program," Coach Bielema said. "I could not be more excited about where we are going. I have been to Razorback clubs all over the state, and people attending those things are very positive. Everybody wants to win and there is an obvious urgency to do that. I'm excited because we know that we are a better team than we were a year ago today."
As the team moves into the summer, one of the rule changes for this season that should benefit the Razorbacks allows for teaching time between the coaching staff and student-athletes.
"The NCAA has allowed a certain number of hours per week that you can utilize to work with your players during the summer," Coach Bielema said. "Until this year, only the strength coaches could use that time. We as coaches couldn't but this year what they have allowed us to do is have a six-to-two ratio. We won't use that much. Coach Herbert will have seven hours and we will have an hour where we can sit down and visit with our players. My assistants will take the first three weeks and then myself and the coordinators will take the fourth week. Then they will get a couple of weeks off from that where they will have double time in the weight room. Then we will bring it full circle. It is something our players have really responded to and hopefully it will be the same way during the summer."
Arkansas opens its 2014 schedule Aug. 30 at defending SEC champion Auburn in a game set to be televised nationally on the SEC Network. The game marks the first time since joining the SEC the Razorbacks will open with a conference opponent. It also will be the first time since 1999, when Arkansas opened at SMU, that Arkansas will play its season opener on the road and the first time since a 1980 matchup at Texas that the Razorbacks will begin the season with a conference game on the road. Coach Bielema believes such a high-profile opener has his team in a great situation entering the season.
"As far as playing Auburn, I don't think we could ask for a better scenario than to play a team that accomplished so much a year ago and is very well-coached football team with so many players back to open up on the SEC Network," Coach Bielema said. "To have all of that going for us in one direction is a very, very positive thing."