OK. The rose-colored glasses are coming off. Not for me, mind you. Bret Bielema’s.
It’s important a coach always have his players’ back. Bielema proved he does last week when he traveled with Frank Ragnow to Minneosta after the death of Ragnow’s father. Few coaches I’ve been around have the sort of public dedication and faith in their players as what Bielema has shown in his tenure here. Parents love him for it. Players, sometimes perhaps begrudgingly, largely appreciate his disciplined and, yes, loving approach.
Sometimes, the devotion colors things in that shade of red. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, per se. Coaches, across sports and leagues and levels of play, tend to highlight the positive more than the negative.
For example, since the spring, we were told the offensive line was in good shape. There was nothing to worry about. The coaches liked their options at safety and depth at linebacker was “improved.” What’s that adage — you tell yourself a lie long enough, you start to believe it.
Every week it becomes more clear. The linebacker position isn’t deep. The safeties aren’t good. The offensive line has crumbled. Right now, that first one appears the biggest bugaboo.
The loss of Dre Greenlaw for an estimated 4-to-6 weeks at linebacker in Arkansas’ 4-2-5 scheme means freshman De’Jon Harris must step into a starting role. The other option is Dwayne Eugene, who has seen nothing but special teams duty in his three-year career so far (save the occasional snap against the dregs of the Arkansas schedule). Swings-and-misses in recruiting this position are now coming back to haunt.
Here are some of the misfires:
- Myke Tavarres, 2013: One season at Arkansas before transferring. He’s now in the NFL.
- Khalia Hackett, 2014: 24 tackles in 2 1/2 years so far.
- Dwayne Eugene, 2014: 26 tackles in 2 1/2 years so far.
- Randy Ramsey, 2014: Off-field stuff stalled Ramsey for 18 months and when he returned, he was made a defensive end, though he’s been good, if a specialist, there.
- Josh Williams, 2014: Started a couple games his first year on campus but injuries have sidetracked him.
- Jamario Bell, 2015: Moved from defensive end to linebacker to tight end. Has yet to play.
- Derrick Graham, 2015: Never played before requesting a transfer earlier this year.
- Kendrick Jackson, 2015: Linebacker-turned-fullback-turned-linebacker-turned-fullback.
Harris badly needs to break this funk.
OK, this one even got me
“Cynical” is one word people often use to describe me. Ask around the Arkansas SID office or with my fellow beat folks. I’m an eye-roller at propaganda, no matter the source. So when I saw the servicemen parachute into Donald W. Reynolds Stadium on Saturday, I thought, “Oh, neat” and I carried on with my pregame prep. I mean, I covered Air Force for a season. I’m used to that stuff. For the most part.
Then Monday night, I saw this:
— Arkansas Razorbacks (@ArkRazorbacks) October 10, 2016
The video is a bit lengthy, but it’s a first-person view from a camera on one of the Wings of Blue jumpers. The views you get of campus and, really, of a good chunk of Fayetteville are spectacular. It’s worth taking a few minutes today.
Alas, a quick exit
Andrew Benintendi’s first postseason stay couldn’t have been shorter.
The former Diamond Hogs outfielder saw his Boston Red Sox eliminated in a sweep in the American League Divisional Series after a 4-3 Cleveland win Monday night. Benintendi, though, was maybe the Red Sox best hitter in just his first MLB postseason. He went 3 for 9 with a home run, a double and two RBIs.
Now, it’s a little early to call him one of the best MLBers Arkansas has ever produced, but it looks like he might be on that list sooner rather than later. In the meantime, to cap our baseball talk — for a while, anyway — here’s a quick rundown on the best five former Hogs ever in the big leagues:
5. Jeff King, first/third base
The No. 1 overall pick in 1986, King is sometimes unfairly knocked for it. He didn’t live up to the draft status, but had an 11-year MLB career stuck on mostly bad Kansas City and Pittsburgh teams. King was a solid everyday starter through most of the 1990s.
4. Johnny Ray, second base
J-Ray was a doubles machine for Pittsburgh and California in the 1980s. He probably should have had more than a single All-Star appearance, but a loaded crew of players (Ryne Sandberg, Willie Randolph, Davey Lopes) overshadowed a sneaky-good career. Ray was arguably Arkansas’ best player in its College World Series runner-up season in 1979 before he finished his MLB career with a .290 batting average and almost 300 doubles in 10 seasons.
3. Dallas Keuchel, pitcher
Keuchel went from bottom-of-the-rotation guy to Cy Young Award winner in about 18 months. With a WHIP at 1.53 and an ERA above 5.00 his first two years, Keuchel was ticketed for long relief until a good year in 2014. In 2015 he shocked everyone by leading the league in WHIP (almost an even 1.00), innings and wins. His 2016 took a step back, but it wasn’t anything to be afraid of going forward. He can go higher on this list.
2. Kevin McReynolds, outfielder
People forget, in the late 1980s, McReynolds was a star for the New York Mets. He finished third in the National League MVP race in 1988. McReynolds was a cornerstone for those Mets teams at the turn of the decade before spending a couple years on the backstretch with the Royals and finally finishing with the Mets. He hit more than 200 home runs in his 12-year career.
1. Cliff Lee, pitcher
With all due respect to the previous four, the best former Arkansas player in the majors is an easy selection. Cliff Lee, for a good five-year run, was one of the best pitchers in baseball. He only won one Cy Young, but finished top 10 in the voting four other times. Injuries stifled what could have been at least another three or four good years.
I think they call this “OWNAGE”
Ole Miss has beaten every SEC West opponent since 2014 except one – Arkansas https://t.co/6yjnsmMeIx
— Antonio Morales (@AntonioCMorales) October 10, 2016
Antonio Morales is the Ole Miss beat writer for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., by the way. I get the feeling, and this has little to do with that tweet, Ole Miss folks are hard-up for a win against Arkansas given the last two years and how both games finished.
Also from Morales: Chad Kelly won’t be disciplined for his weekend antics and is all but assured to play this weekend against Arkansas. During Ole Miss’ bye week, Kelly went up to Buffalo, N.Y., to watch his little brother play high school football. Lil bro took a late hit and the elder Kelly took it upon himself to come to his defense … by running onto the field like a madman.
Speaking of “won’t be disciplined:” The Arkansas professor who cursed at Bielema after the Hogs’ 19-point loss to Alabama on Saturday has apologized and released a statement.
Yee-Haw! Today in Arkansas
Pharmacies. Liquor stores. Convenience stores. The stereotype is these are the most commonly robbed establishments in America. Here in the Natural State, or at least Little Rock, you can add ice cream parlors.
Something strange is afoot at the Baskin Robbins. This place has been robbed four times in the last two years, per this Arkansas Democrat-Gazette report.
Little Rock gets a bum rap lots of times, especially by people in northwest Arkansas where we have, like, zero crime of significance. But this one is just … man. Four times? Really?