FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas Razorbacks football coach Bret Bielema was adamant and unequivocal when he spoke to reporters April 1 after his team’s third 2017 spring practice: Junior right guard Johnny Gibson would not be working with the first unit during the spring.
“He won’t work with the 1s any time this spring,” Bielema said, “but he looked really good when he was going in there with the 2s.”
Precisely 2 weeks later, guess who was Arkansas’ starting right guard in a scrimmage? Johnny Gibson.
Gibson entered the starting lineup last season for the Nov. 5 victory over Florida and stayed there the rest of the season. His emergence was part of what turned things around for an Arkansas offensive line that was mostly dreadful to that point. Bielema even rewarded Gibson — a former walk-on — with a scholarship in December.
But when spring ball began, Gibson was noticeably missing from the first unit. We later learned that he had violated an undisclosed team rule and would have to spend the spring proving himself to his coaches and teammates.
“Just a trust factor there,” Bielema said of Gibson on April 1. “I gave him a scholarship. I expect him to do everything we’re asking him to do on the field and off the field. He’s got a chance to redeem himself.”
That redemption, as it turned out, happened quicker than anyone expected.
Here is Bielema talking about Gibson after the scrimmage Saturday: “He’s done everything we’ve asked of him. I was very upset with him, sat him down. We had a good conversation. He’s done well in the classroom. He’s very conscientious. He’s been practicing his tail off on and off the field. Other than 1 missed assignment that he turned in, he’s been doing everything right.”
Bielema added that he told Gibson after the first week of practice that he would grant a reprieve and “let you have a chance to run with the 1s” if he continued to do things right.
“Because I do love to build continuity,” Bielema said.
There it is.
At the end of the day, Bielema probably knew Gibson — and not Jake Raulerson — would be his starting right guard in 2017 and figured he might as well get that unit in order now, especially if it seemed clear that Gibson learned his lesson. And that is certainly Bielema’s prerogative.
That, or Bielema’s unambiguous, impossible-to-misunderstand comment 2 weeks ago is something we can chalk it up to April Fools’ Day.