FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema spent his first two months on the job jetting around the country, visiting prospects from coast to coast as he put together the Razorbacks’ 2013 signing class.
There was only a slight change of plans in February.
He spent most of the month touring the state of Arkansas.
Bielema told Arkansas’ administration to use him however it needed in between recruiting, working with his new staff and getting to know current players this winter. So he has spent time shaking hands and Calling the Hogs with Arkansas fans around the state a good portion of the past month.
“I’ll go do whatever event I need to do and I’ll go wherever I need to go,” Bielema said during an interview in his office last week. “We’ll see as many people and shake as many hands as we can during this first six-month window to kind of overwhelm the state and make them feel really, really welcome about our program and what we’re going to stand for and what we’re going to be. That’s going to have a gradual effect that is hopefully going to pay off big dividends in the end.”
Bielema has been the featured guest at Razorback Club meetings in Baxter County (Feb. 18), Petit Jean (Feb. 19), White County (Feb. 21) and Mississippi County (Feb. 27). But that hasn’t been the extent of his statewide tour. Bielema and his staff also participated in the High School Coaches Convention in Hot Springs on Feb. 8-9 and was attended Razorback Day at the Capital in Little Rock on Feb. 19. He also made his radio debut with the first edition of the “On the Air With Bret Bielema” Feb. 20.
Bielema said his experiences around the state have been “awesome.”
“The one standard, the one consistency is just the true passion for what it means to be a Razorback,” Bielema said. “We’ll set the world record for Calling the Hogs at every venue we’ll go to. Everybody is excited. They’re appreciative. They seem to be very, very warm to sincerity and to people that are being genuine to them.
“The true reward there is just to see it on their faces. To hear it in their voice.”
There are plenty more speaking appearances scheduled as well, even though the Razorbacks begin spring practice next Sunday.
The list, according to the Razorback Foundation’s website, includes the Roy L. Murphy Razorback Club (Monday), Memphis-East Arkansas Razorback Club (Thursday) and the Greater Tulsa Razorback Club (March 13). Bielema also has appearances set for Saline County Razorback Club (March 27), Greers Ferry Lake Area (April 1), Texarkana (April 10), Ft. Smith (April 23) and East Central Arkansas (April 30) in the next two months.
“I think once we get into spring ball, as crazy as that sounds, it will simmer down a little bit,” said Bielema, whose will wrap up his first spring practice on April 20.
New positions for players
It won’t be long before the Razorbacks begin sorting out which players can help them at what positions next season. Bielema was asked if he had made any personnel moves before spring practice begins and said “not at this point.”
But he said the key is being open to ideas once workouts begin next Sunday.
“I do think there’s some players with special abilities,” Bielema said. “And I do know this: if you’ve got a player that has a talent to win a football game it doesn’t do you any good to keep them on the sidelines. So if there’s someone we feel can help us in any phase, offense, defense, special teams, that maybe would be out of the normal way of thinking, we’ll explore that option.”
Bielema did confirm senior Brandon Mitchell will open the spring at quarterback. He was predominantly used as a receiver last season.
“Brandon is a quarterback and we’ll see where he goes,” Bielema said.
Austin Flynn update
Bielema described defensive end Austin Flynn’s arrest for driving while intoxicated last month as a “social issue” that will be handled by the head coach.
However, Flynn’s punishment may not necessarily include any missed playing time next season. Bielema said he judges every social issue on a case-by-case basis.
“One thing I’ve really established over the course of time is social issues are all independent of one another,” Bielema said. “Some people have a history. Some people don’t. Every social issue is different. One thing that social issues will always involve is community service. It will be something that we agree upon mutually between me, the administration and the kid.”
ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. updated his position rankings for the 2013 NFL Draft after last week’s Scouting Combine. It included two Razorbacks.
Tyler Wilson is now listed as Kiper’s fourth-best quarterback available, while Chris Gragg is fifth on the list of tight ends. Gragg, a former Warren standout, was new to Kiper’s list, earning a spot after turning in the fastest 40-yard dash (4.5 seconds) and top marks in the broad jump (125 inches) and vertical leap (37 ½ inches) among his position group.