FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema got his first good look at his newcomers when the Razorbacks opener preseason camp Monday.
His first impression: several will play roles this season.
“I think it shows and we’ll see the course of this week that there are some guys that are going to be able to help us,” Bielema said. “There’s going to be some guys that can help in certain ways. Not just in a reserve role, but maybe in a big way.”
Arkansas kicked off preseason practice behind closed practice doors, beginning a 26-day stretch that leads into the season opener at Auburn on Aug. 30.
Bielema emerged from the workout with plenty of compliments for a new group that includes guard Cameron Jefferson, center Frank Ragnow, defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson and linebacker Josh Williams. It’s too early to say how many the Razorbacks expect to play right away, but Bielema it wouldn’t be a surprise if the numbers were similar to last season when 12 members of a 23-man class played.
“You guys know I don’t really try to sell anybody one way or another,” Bielema said. “But I definitely think the number will be similar, if not more. I could see that.”
Arkansas is counting on Jefferson to be one of them. The left guard was a three-year starter at UNLV before leaving the program in the offseason. He wasn’t on campus throughout the summer as he worked to finalize his departure from UNLV, but joined the Razorbacks in time for reporting day along with Sebastian Tretola.
Jefferson is competing for a starting spot at left guard, which is being manned by senior Luke Charpentier to begin preseason camp.
“Cameron is a guy that if you walk out there and look draws your attention right away,” Bielema said. “He is 6-6 plus, weighs 310 pounds and looks like he weighs 275. He is an incredibly physically looking player.”
But Jefferson isn’t the only newcomer that could work his way into the starting five along the offensive front this season. Arkansas is impressed with Ragnow as well.
Bielema said the Minnesota native got second- and third-team work at center during Monday’s practice. He wasn’t perfect. There was one center-quarterback exchange issue, but Ragnow handled his first practice well.
“The maturity and the complexity of his approach … He knows every call on everything we put in on day one and really through day five,” said Bielema, who started two true freshmen offensive linemen — Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper — the final eight games last season. “He’s really pretty much up to beat.”
Arkansas is intrigued about a late addition to its signing class as well.
Bielema believes Williams, a Dodge City (Kansas) Community College transfer who is from south Florida, has a chance to help in a “big way” this season.
Williams is working with a group of linebackers that include returning contributors Braylon Mitchell, Brooks Ellis and Martrell Spaight. But Bielema said Williams’ potential is evident and has the ability to help somewhere.
“We’re going to kind of feel Josh Williams and see what he can bring to the table,” Bielema said.
The Razorbacks wasted no time blending the newcomers with the veterans Monday, putting them on the field together for the bulk of the practice.
Arkansas senior Brey Cook said Sunday the veterans expected competition after watching the bulk of the group work alongside them in the offseason.
“It’s a great time for competition,” Cook said. “Younger guys to step up and challenge the older guys for spots and starters to really defend their position.”
The newcomers did close Monday’s practice on their own. Bielema said they participated in 11-on-11 drills while the veterans watched.
He made sure the new crop of freshmen wide receivers — Jared Cornelius, Jojo Robinson and Kendrick Edwards — were highlighted on the final snap.
“We ran an all go on the last play,” Bielema said. “I knew everybody would get kind of riled up, just to see those freshmen wide receivers run and see that out there.”
It was just the start. Bielema said there is more to come as Arkansas looks to its 2014 class to help the Razorbacks bounce back from last season’s disappointments.
“When we get into two-a-days, the way I’ve set it up, in the evening we’ll have a big emphasis on the kicking game in the lights over in the stadium,” Bielema said. “And then after we are done with tha,t a 12-period practice and we’ll jump into a six-period practice that will be really just for freshmen only and young kids that we want to get a good look at. So, there will be a lot more coming.”