FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Welcome to SEC Country’s Arkansas football mailbag with beat writer Jason Kersey. In this edition, we discuss Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, possible breakout stars in 2017 and more.
Arkansas, Bret Bielema and Barry Alvarez
Q: Since Coach B has been the head coach at the University of Arkansas, he has been without his mentor, Barry Alvarez. In that time, Arkansas has gone 3-9 in 2013, 7-6 in 2014, 8-5 in 2015, and 7-6 in 2016. Earlier this summer, the story broke that Coach B and Alvarez renewed their friendship and buried the hatchet if you will. Now that Bret has his “biggest influence on his coaching career” back as his mentor, do you think that this will have a positive impact in the win/loss columns moving forward? — Casey
In May, ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg broke the story about Bielema and his mentor Alvarez — Wisconsin’s former football coach and current athletic director — burying the hatchet and becoming close friends again. The relationship soured when Bielema left Wisconsin in December 2012 to take the Arkansas job.
Will that have a positive effect on Arkansas? That’s really hard to say with any certainty. I think having his close friend and mentor back in his life could definitely help Bielema, but Alvarez is still athletic director at another school. I’m sure Bielema can call him for advice here and there, but how much exactly? If Arkansas and Wisconsin were to play one another, it would only be in a bowl game.
Bielema hinted during one spring news conference that Alvarez had influenced his decision to hold senior center Frank Ragnow — one of the best players on the team — out of scrimmages because of his value to the team. So there is certainly some advice being given and received. I’m just not sure how much that translates into wins for the Razorbacks.
Jeremy Patton’s status at Arkansas
Q: Any word on if Jeremy Patton makes it? — Zach
Jeremy Patton was one of Arkansas’ highest-rated signees in the 2017 signing class. The No. 1-rated JUCO tight end in the country per 247Sports, Patton was supposed to be on campus for the spring semester. Most believed he would immediately dive into the competition to replace Jeremy Sprinkle as the Razorbacks’ top tight end.
But academic issues forced Patton to delay his arrival. Bielema originally said that Patton would be in Fayetteville for the first summer session in June, but that didn’t happen, either. Arkansas coaches now say that Patton is expected for the second summer session, which begins next week. If Patton doesn’t make it to campus next week, that would be a real cause for concern. Obviously, guys can still show up in August for fall camp. But the longer this plays out, the less likely it seems that Patton will be a Hog.
The tight end position is such an important one for Arkansas’ offense and Patton’s impressive skill set makes him a great fit. Now he is probably at a disadvantage because Austin Cantrell, Cheyenne O’Grady, Jack Kraus and the other tight ends were there for spring ball.
Arkansas’ potential breakout players
Q: Who are the players who have flown under the radar who you think will make big strides this season? — Ryan
I would keep an eye on several defensive players. They are the guys that have the opportunity to make the biggest jump in my opinion because of the new system and several graduated starters.
SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic recently told Sports Talk With Bo that he believes junior linebacker Dre Greenlaw — if he stays healthy — can be a top-5 linebacker in the SEC.
Cole Cubelic expects Dre Greenlaw to be a top 5 SEC linebacker. pic.twitter.com/CrCnXObEjH
— Bo Mattingly (@SportsTalkwBo) June 28, 2017
I also think Randy Ramsey is capable of shining in this new system because of his pass-rushing skills. Obviously, defensive end McTelvin “Sosa” Agim is arguably the most talented player on the entire team, so his sophomore season could be a breakout one.
On offense, running back Devwah Whaley is an obvious breakout candidate because of his ascension to the top of the depth chart. But I would also keep an eye on wide receivers. JUCO transfer Brandon Martin is talented enough to make an immediate splash. Sophomore La’Michael Pettway could also have a breakout season. I’m also interested to see what sophomore and converted running back T.J. Hammonds does in his new receiver role.
Will Arkansas make second-half improvements?
Q: I was extremely frustrated at the end of most games last year because Arkansas could never finish. I looked at the stats and they were outscored 149-67 in the second half all season. That’s awful. Not only was the offense anemic, but the defense was porous. Can we expect that to get better next year? — Ian
I would say most Arkansas fans surely joined Ian in his frustration with Arkansas’ poor second-half performances last season — especially the meltdowns at Missouri and against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl to end the season. And those second-half collapses absolutely were entire team efforts. Quarterback Austin Allen played horribly in the second half of both games.
I’m sure that is something that coaches have been harping on since winter workouts began in mid-January. And college football players at this level certainly have lots of pride and won’t soon forget the way it felt walking off the field after those games. But will that result in better second-half performances? There’s just no way to tell right now.
The defense should be better in 2017 under new coordinator Paul Rhoads and in the new 3-4 system. There is still a lot of inexperience on that side of the ball, but the defensive players on Arkansas’ roster seem better suited to play in a 3-4. Now that Allen has a year of experience under his belt, maybe he will handle second halves better.
Not Arkansas related — but important
Q: A bit off-topic, but would you vote for Jonah Ryan for president? — Jono
My Twitter followers and friends know about my obsession with HBO’s Veep, which I consider to be the best comedy on television right now. So if you haven’t watched every episode so far, stop reading because there are spoilers.
So, would I vote for Jonah Ryan for president? I think he’s got lots of qualities and experience that make him an intriguing candidate. When he worked at the White House under President Hughes, he handled the interactive tour section of the website. That’s tough stuff. He also led the White House’s effort to connect with rural voters — naming it “U.S., Hey!” — and accompanied Vice President Meyer to a pig pickin’ in North Carolina.
Let’s not forget his foray into reporting, between “WestWingMan.net” and “Ryantology.” I’m all for having a president with a solid understanding of journalism!
As a congressman, Jonah Ryan led the fight against healthy school lunches. I mean, those programs don’t even consider people who are fructose intolerant. He also battled against daylight saving time. Who among us hasn’t had an entire day messed up by that unnecessary irritant?
Choosing between Selina Meyer and Jonah Ryan would be pretty tough.
Jason Kersey will answer reader questions about Arkansas football — or whatever else you want to talk about! — each Friday. To submit a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message to @jasonkersey on Twitter.