BELLA VISTA — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema isn’t shy about sharing his feelings.
So it’s no surprise Bielema didn’t express any regret about taking subtle jabs at Alabama and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin while making the rounds at ESPN earlier this week. Bielema — who posted “not trying to make friends” on his Twitter page as he was leaving Bristol, Conn. — didn’t back down from it Friday before participating in the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Club’s golf scramble.
“I’m going to be who I am no matter what and I want our players to approach it and do what they do,” Bielema said. “If that offends you, that’s your problem. That’s your prerogative.”
Bielema’s first ESPN comment came in a conversation with ESPN.com’s Chris Low. Responding to a question about Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s thoughts that cheating pays in college athletics, Bielema said “It’s not like it was when Lane basically said, ‘I’m gonna do some things, gonna get caught, but it’s worth exposure.’”
Bielema was referring to Kiffin’s tenure as Tennessee’s coach.
Bielema also mentioned Alabama during a roundtable discussion with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and Tennessee’s Butch Jones that aired on ESPNU. Bielema was asked about the year-round demands on coaches and pointed to a two-week dead period that stretched from June 30 to July 13.
“For the first time in NCAA history they gave us a two-week dead period,” Bielema said. “I don’t know about you guys, but it really wasn’t dead. Alabama got a waiver. They got to have a camp. But everybody else had to abide by the rules and for 14 days we couldn’t have anybody on campus.”
The dead period prohibits in-person visits or evaluations. The NCAA granted a waiver for the Crimson Tide to start a four-day school for high school players on the final day of the dead period, according to Al.com.
Bielema said he became aware of the eyebrows raised by his comments while waiting to depart from Bristol. So then he offered his response on Twitter.
“I didn’t mean it as a way to make any statement other than I’m not going to make a statement trying to gain friends,” Bielema said Friday.
Bielema said last week Arkansas plans to get A.J. Derby some quarterback work during preseason camp. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney confirmed it as well.
“We’ve got a kid with the time he’s put in, we’d probably be a fool not to keep his hand in it a little bit,” Chaney said. “I mean, the kid knows how to play quarterback. He’s a competitive guy. He’s a senior on our football team. So why not? It makes no sense not to let him have a little bit once in awhile. Keep him alive there.”
Derby completed 19 of 36 passes for 178 yards with a touchdown and interception in relief of Brandon Allen last season. He started spring practice as the second-team quarterback, but moved to tight end midway through drills.
Arkansas believes Derby will be an effective weapon at his new position. In fact, Bielema predicted the senior could be one of the SEC’s surprises this fall.
But Chaney said Derby and redshirt freshman Damon Mitchell, who moved from quarterback to wide receiver in the spring, aren’t completely through under center.
“We are going to try and keep his hand involved somewhat when we start training camp,” Chaney said of Derby. “Just some little seven-on-seven drills. I like Derby and at quarterback you never know what happens.”
Offensive linemen Cameron Jefferson and Sebastian Tretola still haven’t made it to campus, but Bielema remains optimistic they’ll arrive soon.
Both linemen will enter preseason practice without going through offseason workouts with the rest of the Razorbacks. Bielema said the absence does make Tretola’s push for immediate playing time more challenging, but believes Jefferson has a chance to adapt quickly after being a three-year starter at UNLV.
“He’s a fifth-year player,” Bielema said. “He’s a kid that, even though he’s been at UNLV, I think the adaptation, other than terminology, will be pretty quick. Tretola’s probably a little bit different. He’s a junior-college player who’s been in a couple different systems and to learn to adjust how we do things and how we expect certain things to be done, his curve might be a little bit bigger. But each of them have a great O-line coach that I think will be able to accelerate them pretty quick.”
Offensive line coach Sam Pittman said he’s ready to work with both newcomers, who will try to help strengthen Arkansas’ interior.
“There will be a lot of competition,” Pittman said. “That’s the only way you get good. We’re finally getting close to where there will be competition at most every spot.”
Bielema said cornerback Tevin Mitchel (shoulder) will be among a small group limited during the early portions of practice because of offseason surgeries.
Mitchel, who suffered the shoulder injury late in the spring, started 10 games last season and finished fifth on the team with 47 tackles.
Defensive linemen Brandon Lewis and Mitchell Loewen also will be limited early after undergoing knee surgeries. Loewen missed the spring, while Lewis underwent his procedure after practices ended.