HOOVER, Ala. — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Auburn’s Gus Malzhan were pitted as opponents in a pace of play war of words during SEC Media Days last July.
Malzahn didn’t add any fuel to the fire in front of reporters at the Wynfrey Hotel earlier this week. Bielema didn’t take the bait Wednesday, either.
Bielema steered relatively clear of creating another pace of play controversy during his media rounds. He was asked about his relationship with Malzahn, how firm he was in his belief the issue pertains to player safety, and his response to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel’s earlier assessment that any health concerns were “fiction.”
“I’m probably more of a reality-based moving guy more than fiction, I guess,” Bielema said. “I think I deal more in what I know, what I see, what I believe.”
Bielema has never been shy about entering the fray. He had to apologize earlier this spring after referring to the death of Cal player Ted Agu and added “death certificates” were the only proof he needed to show the dangers of fast play.
Bielema and Malzahn are on opposite sides of the pace of play spectrum. But Bielema said he and Malzahn have spoken on the phone a couple times about issues — “none of them have been player-safety related” — and added there is “nothing but a tremendous amount of respect” between the coaches.
“I can’t say that we’re breaking bread together and going to dinner when we can, but I’m not throwing bread at him and rocks and everything else,” Bielema said.
He didn’t throw rocks at anyone else, either, Wednesday. Even after Pinkel strongly rejected any notion that up-tempo offenses lead to health concerns.
“I don’t buy the health issue in any way,” Pinkel said. “It’s never happened. No one has ever come to me all those years and said, ‘Gosh, I’m really concerned about the health of our teams playing these fast-paced offenses.’”
Bielema said he has no problem facing up-tempo offenses. In fact, he said there’s “nothing more enjoyable than to see a no-huddle offense sitting on the sideline and can’t stand it.” But he won’t stray from his player safety beliefs.
“Our responsibility as coaches is player safety,” Bielema said. “However that comes about, whether it be a 10-second rule in the future, whether it be a substitution mandatory rule that a committee comes in place and sets in college football, I think the game is going to be a safer one because of it.”
Bielema predicted tight end A.J. Derby would be one of the SEC’s biggest surprises this season after changing positions in the offseason.
Derby moved from quarterback to tight end and was one of Arkansas’ most productive receivers during the spring. The senior will be part of a position that also includes sophomores Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle.
“I think he’s shown us in practice what he can be is truly exceptional,” Bielema said.
But Bielema indicated Derby isn’t completely done at quarterback. He said last season’s backup will take some repetitions in preseason practice along with redshirt freshman Austin Allen and freshman Rafe Peavey.
“There’s a guy there that’s obviously played in a game and played in a lot of games in junior college,” Bielema said. “So the quarterback position other than the status of (Brandon Allen) as a starter, I think, is going to be a critical part of fall camp.”
Hogs expect Marshall
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall’s status for the season opener is unknown after he was cited for possession of marijuana in Georgia last week. But Bielema said the Razorbacks expect to see Marshall on the field when they open the season Aug. 30.
“I think knowing what I know as a head coach, Nick will be there,” Bielema said.
Marshall is one of the top returning quarterbacks in the conference after leading the Tigers to the national title game last season. He rushed for 59 yards and completed 7 of 8 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown in a 35-17 win at Arkansas last season.
Safety Alan Turner hopes they’ll get a chance to see Marshall again next month.
“You never want to see a guy get in trouble,” Turner said. “Of course we’d love to play Nick Marshall. I hope he does get to play because at the end of the day we want to play their best. In order to be the best you have to beat the best.”
Good luck DGB
Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who chose Missouri over Arkansas in the 2012 recruiting cycle, was dismissed by the Tigers earlier this offseason.
Green-Beckham, who caught 59 passes for 883 yards with 12 touchdowns last season, has recently enrolled at Oklahoma and is awaiting an NCAA decision on whether he’ll be eligible to play in 2014.
Pinkel acknowledged Missouri lost a “really great player” as they try to repeat as SEC East champions. But Pinkel said he wished Green-Beckham the best.
“You make mistakes, you have a chance to learn lessons and I think he will,” Pinkel said. “The good news is he can do a lot of great things for himself as a person.”
Bret on Boyd
The release of the 2014 Arkansas media guide revealed that Cordale Boyd had moved from the offensive line to defensive tackle. Bielema explained the decision to slide the sophomore to the other side of the ball Wednesday.
“I’ve just been overly impressed with his work ethic, his desire, his attitude,” Bielema said. “He’s a very, very intelligent young man. He runs extremely well.”
Bielema said he brought Boyd into his office after spring practice and asked if he wanted to help the Razorbacks at another position. The interior of the defensive line is one of Arkansas’ biggest depth concerns entering the season.
“He kind of looked like I had three heads for a minute and he jumped into it full flow,” Bielema said. “If they’re on scholarship they need to get out there and need to get on the field, so try to put them in the best position possible.”
Bielema may be firm in his belief that no-huddle, hurry-up offenses create player safety concerns. But one of his defensive leaders didn’t agree Wednesday.
“I feel like it’s not really a hazard or anything,” Turner said. “Fast tempo will get you tired, but at the end of the day I don’t think it’s a hazard.”
Bielema said Arkansas is still waiting for two newcomers — offensive linemen Sebastian Tretola and Cameron Jefferson — to arrive on campus.
But Bielema said the Razorbacks still expect both linemen, who could have an impact immediately, to arrive in time for the start of preseason practice on Aug. 4.
“Cameron, for instance, he’s graduated from UNLV,” Bielema said. “All the paperwork. But you’ve got to go through all this jazz to get to where you need to be. We expect him sometime here in the next two weeks. Sebastian as well. I think the 25th is the course that he’s done with. We’ll expect him somewhere along Aug. 1, 2.”
Steve Shaw, the SEC’s director of officials, said one conference crew will work with eight officials this season. The crew will work one game involving every SEC school as part of an experiment to see how it impacts officiating.
Shaw said it’s a misconception the extra official will help hurry-up, no-huddle offenses move faster. He said the directives of officials will not change as they work to spot the ball after a play and move into position for the next.
“You will not walk and will not sprint,” Shaw said. “We’re calling it a crisp jog.”
Officials also will wipe away targeting penalties if video replays overturn the call this season. Last year, a player’s ejection was wiped away if a targeting penalty was overturned by replay but the 15-yard penalty remained.
Arkansas guard Brey Cook turned the tables on the media Wednesday, wearing a GoPro camera in his jacket pocket to film his experience at SEC Media Days.
Cook said it’s part of a project that will be unveiled soon.
“It’s going to be an amazing video,” Cook said. “It’s going to be out there, come Google it in a couple of weeks. It will be on YouTube or something.”
But that wasn’t all Cook had up his sleeve. All three players representing the Razorbacks made a decision to wear bow ties Wednesday, while Cook also had Superman cufflinks on his sleeve at the recommendation of a family member.
“These were my grandma’s decision,” Cook said as he showed off the cufflinks. “I went with it. She’s always right. I’m not going to question her.”
Summer with Les
LSU coach Les Miles never disappoints in front of an audience. The veteran coach came through once again when he spoke about his summer vacation Wednesday.
“I went to Austin, took my three children with me,” Miles said. “So we had six, two parents and four children. It was miserable. I hated it. But it was great fun.
“It was not a beach, it was not sand, but it was my family and that was the best.”