Passion for preparation


LITTLE ROCK — Announced weeks in advance, the start time for Arkansas’ Aug. 24 scrimmage is a testament to Bret Bielema’s passion for precise preparation.

Not 11 a.m., or 11:30, but 11:21, because that’s the time the Razorbacks kick off against Southern Mississippi in the third game of the year. The first scrimmage this Saturday is at 3 p.m. to coincide with the Louisiana-Lafayette kickoff and the 6 p.m. scrimmage on Aug. 17 reflects the start time for the Samford game.

The new coach’s attention to time and travel says the Razorbacks will be prepared. Period. It does not reflect the skill level of the players involved.

At Bielema’s orders, director of football operations Mark Taurisani, trainer Matt Summers and equipment manager Chuck Hall boarded a private plane to check out the nuances of playing at Rutgers and at Florida — Arkansas’ first two road games. Sending an advance party on the road is not unusual; what is unusual is that the head coach also made the trip, checking out such things as the time needed to bus from hotel to stadium.

The group even spent a night in New Jersey in what will be the team hotel on Sept. 20.

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Always on top of things, Razorback beat writer Robbie Neiswanger was a step ahead of me with 10 questions that the Razorbacks need to address this preseason.

The individuals on the Top 10 list included quarterback Brandon Allen and defensive end Chris Smith, the positions included offensive line, linebacker, and wide receiver, and the generalities included depth on defense and offensive identity.

Limited to 10, I don’t know which one I would have dropped, but the secondary would have been included. Talking with Neiswanger, he said he wished he had found room for that topic. Not once last year was there pre-snap confidence that the Razorbacks would stop their opponent on an obvious passing down.

Arkansas was No. 113 in the country in pass defense, allowing almost 286 yards per game. Worse, Arkansas opponents averaged 13.09 yards per completion so noting that four starters return in the secondary is a dubious distinction. Only 11 teams gave up more yards per completion, including Tulane, New Mexico State, Temple, Rice, Buffalo, Army, and Louisiana Tech — not exactly the company you want to keep when it comes to football stats.

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If an investigation of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel leads to his suspension, the odds on several wagers will be affected:

—The over-under on the Aggies’ victory total for the season will drop from 9 1-2 to 7 1-2.

—Instead of being a 4 1-2 point underdog against Alabama, the Aggies will be at least two touchdown underdogs.

—Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller will supplant Manziel as the favorite for the Heisman Trophy.

For now, Bovada.lv has stopped taking bets on anything Aggie.

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The inside cover of the media guide is a reminder that the Arkansas coaching staff has a wide-ranging background.

Labeled “Professional Development,” the two pages show 14 players who have either been selected high in the NFL draft or had success in the NFL or both.

Half of the players are from Wisconsin, an immediate connection to Bielema and assistants who were with him in Madison. Two are from Miami where Arkansas linebacker coach Randy Shannon had quite a run. Drew Brees’ link to offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was made easy by Brees’ complimentary quote concerning the former Purdue offensive coordinator.

I had to look up the relationship between Malcolm Jenkins of Ohio State, Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina, Darren Sproles and Chris Harper of Kansas State, and the Arkansas coaches.

Taver Johnson coached cornerbacks while Jenkins was in Columbus. Associate head coach-recruiting coordinator-offensive line coach Sam Pittman was at North Carolina with Cooper. Wide receivers coach Michael Smith is the connection to Kansas State.

All in all, an impressive sales pitch to athletes with NFL aspirations.