HOOVER, Ala. — Arkansas Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema and three senior captains met with reporters Monday at 2017 SEC Media Days. The Hogs were the first of 14 SEC teams to participate in the event this week at the Wynfrey Hotel.
Here’s a quick look at a few of the things we learned about the 2017 Razorbacks:
Arkansas is starting fall camp early
Arkansas will begin fall camp in late July this year — the result of the NCAA killing two-a-days and the Razorbacks’ Thursday night season opener. Arkansas begins the season Aug. 31 against Florida A&M inside Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.
Of course, the Razorbacks’ early start to fall camp should come as no surprise. Preseason football activities seem to come earlier and earlier every year. Case in point: SEC Media Days began on July 10. In another decade or so, we’ll probably leave the spring game, catch a flight to Hoover and go ahead with Media Days in early May.
Dre Greenlaw should be a full participant in fall camp
Bielema said that snakebitten junior linebacker Dre Greenlaw “looks great” and should be in good position to resume full activities with the team by the time fall camp starts later this month.
Greenlaw broke his foot during the Razorbacks’ Oct. 8 home loss to Alabama. He missed the rest of the regular season and returned for the Belk Bowl, where he reinjured the foot early in the third quarter.
He was limited for most of the spring.
“We constantly are monitoring and looking at what we can do for him to make sure,” Bielema said. “But he should be 100 percent go by fall camp.”
As one of two inside linebackers, Greenlaw will be a key cog in the Razorbacks’ new 3-4 defensive system. He led Arkansas in tackles at the time of his first foot injury last season.
Melvin Johnson probably won’t play for Arkansas
JUCO defensive line signee Melvin Johnson wasn’t listed in the media guide and from what Bielema said Monday, I wouldn’t count on Johnson playing for the Razorbacks. Not this season, anyway.
Bielema said there is still a chance he could join the team in December or January.
Last season at Riverside Community College in California, Johnson recorded 37 tackles and 9 tackles-for-loss.
Montaric Brown probably will play for Arkansas
Good news, though: The Razorbacks do expect to have 4-star safety Montaric Brown by the time fall camp begins. Brown was one of the Hogs’ highest-rated 2017 signees. He’s also important because he’s an in-state guy who Arkansas coaches had to fight hard to keep from flipping to Oklahoma or Oklahoma State.
“[Brown] is currently doing everything he has to do to get where he needs to be, to get here by fall camp,” Bielema said. “He is so close that if that doesn’t happen here in the next couple weeks, I do foresee him being able to join us by the time school starts and at the worst maybe a January enrollment.
“But he’ll be with us sooner than later.”
Because of Arkansas’ struggles at the safety positions the last two years, Brown was believed to be talented enough to possibly compete for playing time immediately. The longer he takes to get to campus, though, the less likely that seems.
Feeling good about the offensive line
A key feature of almost every Bielema-coached team is a stout, scary offensive line that wears down opposing defenses — especially late in the season.
That was not the case in 2017.
“It’s honestly embarrassing and unacceptable what happened last year and I don’t want it to happen again,” said senior center Frank Ragnow.
“I’ve really tried to emphasize this during the offseason … it’s not acceptable for [Allen] to get hit. It’s not acceptable for him to have pressure in his face. We should hold ourselves to the standard where he’s never getting touched and if he is touched it’s on very, very rare occurrences.”
Bielema said that he feels good about where his offensive line is at at this point. Last year at this time, Arkansas still wasn’t close to settling on a starting offensive line. This year, the Hogs appeared to have the starting group figured out before spring football was over.
Week after week, Bielema went out of his way to defend his offensive line last season despite their obvious struggles. Monday, he acknowledged that they weren’t good enough.
“One of the major issues with us last year in protection and taking care of our quarterback and being able to run a football is we did not have enough of SEC quality offensive linemen in our program,” Bielema said. “I myself had not done what I needed to do to give us the numbers early on in those classes to get us there. Or some guys left a little early because they played well.
“I feel really, really good about where that group is. I like the fact that they’ve taken some shots and they’ve survived, and I really think they’re in a mode to really prove some things this fall.”