Arkansas coach Bret Bielema made a couple of things clear about running back Alex Collins on Saturday: There’s no truth to rumblings that Collins has been suspended for any games next season or is considering a departure from the program.
Bielema answered questions about Collins after Arkansas’ 101-play scrimmage in Razorback Stadium. It was the first time he was available to the media since the Razorbacks returned from spring break, when rumors about Collins’ happiness and future with the program made the rounds on social media.
“The part about transferring I think is completely clueless, baseless and senseless, whoever tried to say it,” Bielema said. “There isn’t anything out there about that.”
Collins, who was the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year last season, did serve a one-week suspension earlier this offseason. He was one of nine players who was suspended by Bielema for “a variety of reasons.”
Bielema revealed the suspension shortly after it occurred. But Bielema also said the team’s leading returning rusher has responded well to the punishment.
“He’s really grown as a person,” Bielema said. “I think the thing about him is he’s had so much success in life, when he had a bump in the road he had a tendency to try to do things his own way. And he had to learn how to do the things the way we are here. I couldn’t be more pleased with where he’s at. He had to grow a lot. He had to earn respect from some of his teammates. He’s doing that bit by bit now.”
Collins was the second-leading rusher in Arkansas’ scrimmage Saturday, running or 38 yards on 8 attempts. He shouldered more work than junior Jonathan Williams, who was only given a light load (five carries) during the workout. Sophomore Korliss Marshall didn’t scrimmage because of an unspecified medical issue.
Collins’ final carry was a 25-yard run. It was the longest rushing attempt Saturday.
“Alex made a couple of special gifts in the running game,” Bielema said about Collins’ week of work. “He made a play on Thursday that was pretty special to watch. He definitely, as we all know, has a lot of ability.”
Bielema couldn’t provide many details about Marshall’s absence Saturday, saying the Razorbacks “don’t really know” the exact medical problem.
“He just has some issues we want to get further testing on, get some blood work on,” Bielema said. “It’s something that bothered him a little bit last week coming off the break and we will see exactly where it is. Hopefully we will get him cleared by Tuesday, but I don’t know the answers. That’s why we are doing the tests on him.”
Marshall is part of Arkansas’ three-man rotation in the backfield, moving to the position full-time this spring. He did not practice Thursday or Saturday.
Several other Razorbacks didn’t participate in Saturday’s scrimmage in addition to Marshall. The list included: wide receivers Demetrius Wilson (returning from last season’s torn anterior cruciate ligament) and Eric Hawkins (head injury), defensive tackle Jeremy Ward (back) and defensive end Trey Flowers (coach’s decision).
Bielema said Flowers won’t scrimmage this spring as they prepare for next season.
“There’s nothing at all wrong with him,” Bielema said. “He’s going to practice. He did a very good job up until (Saturday) and he won’t scrimmage at all.”
Ward hasn’t participated in spring drills because of a reoccurring back issue.
“He had a second opinion in Little Rock and we haven’t had information gathered back from that,” Bielema said. “Jeremy is a great kid with a lot of upside, but the bottom line is that back has been a reoccurring issue and we are going to have to make some decisions on him whether to get the surgery done and where football stands for him in the future.”
Need a leader
Bielema said the Razorbacks needed a leader on their defensive front with Flowers watching from the sidelines. Sophomore Deatrich Wise filled the void.
Wise earned first-team work in Flowers’ place and had a strong scrimmage, recording a team-high nine tackles, two for loss.
“I can’t go out and go from coast to coast and find a better physical presence than Deatrich,” Bielema said. “He’s 6-foot-5, 275 or 285. He runs like a deer. He’s intelligent. The things that have limited him is his maturity, ability to handle the moment. He’s gotten so much better at that, I think the kid has grown by leaps and bounds. The kid has adjusted to coach (Rory) Segrest, what he’s teaching him. He continues to flourish. He did a nice job, I was anxious to see who took the reigns in that defensive line group when Trey wasn’t out there and he seemed to do that.”
Bielema is a fan of physical play. He ignores some pushing and shoving. But he draws the line with throwing punches in practice.
There was a slight delay during the scrimmage when offensive and defensive players were involved in a minor scrape after a play. Bielema pulled offensive tackle Dan Skipper off the field for a bit after seeing the sophomore punch teammates.
“I love Dan and I love the way he plays,” Bielema said. “I’m always bragging on him and he plays through the whistle, but I saw a couple of punches being thrown and I just can’t tolerate that. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
“Dan is a very intelligent person, but to punch a facemask is not usually met with good results. I know he is going to be an engineer, but I don’t know if the facemask is engineered in a way to take a fist.”
Skipper wasn’t alone. Bielema said he also pulled Collins off the field briefly, too.
“Alex threw a punch early on after (safety) T.Q. (Coleman) came up and whacked him,” Bielema said. “If you throw a punch, you are going to get thrown out. There is a definite line you have to walk there. But I don’t mind a little bit of — shall we say — engagement to let them know that it is going to be a part of the game.”