NCF Nation: Kody Walker

You could hear the commotion in the background as Bret Bielema was handed the phone late Wednesday night. The Arkansas coach has been in the news lately as the most vocal proponent of the now-tabled 10-second rule. Not all of his remarks have gone over well, and he has come under fire for it, becoming a talking point in the media and at watercoolers around the country.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesArkansas coach Bret Bielema wants competition at quarterback this spring, though junior Brandon Allen is the favorite to start in 2014.
But the noise on the other end of the line was clearly enthusiastic as Bielema left a Razorback Club event in Central Arkansas, loading into a vehicle that would take him to the airport and back to Fayetteville. He does a number of similar booster club gatherings during the spring, and Wednesday’s event promised to be one of the final get-togethers before spring practice begins Sunday. The message that night: Last season wasn’t a starting point, it was a launching point. Some 500 people filled the room for fried fish and football, a record draw for the event.

“It’s always a little crazy, it just depends what kind of crazy,” Bielema said of the road to spring practice. “But it’s good. I’m excited. I know our kids are.

“A year ago at this time, we were getting to know these kids, trying to know their names. ... Now a year into it we have 88 kids who are going to partake in practice, and 84 of them you’ve seen before.”

Bielema and the Razorbacks are putting last season’s 3-9 finish behind them. In December, the team watched the SEC championship game and the second-year coach asked his players why they couldn't be there in 2014. Auburn and Missouri combined for two SEC wins in 2012 and now they were playing in Atlanta. Only a month earlier, Arkansas threatened a fourth-quarter comeback against Auburn, falling short despite getting almost 200 combined rushing yards from Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins.

“I really wanted to challenge them that it’s not one but two teams that decided to make a stand,” Bielema said. “And to do that, you need to change your actions. I knew they were going to work hard, they were going to listen, they were going to try and do the things we asked them to do. But maybe off the field they needed to dedicate themselves."

The results, Bielema said, have been positive. He has seen a number of players change physically since then, pointing out Williams in particular. The rising junior has put on 15 pounds and “is actually faster and more limber” than he was before, according to his coach.

Collins, who ran for 1,026 yards as a freshman last season, and Williams will once again make up Arkansas’ tandem at tailback. Fellow tailback Kody Walker will play much more at fullback this spring, switching back and forth between the two positions much like Kiero Small did last season.

With Hunter Henry back at tight end, there’s a good nucleus to build around on offense. Henry had his highs and lows last season, said Bielema, who is hoping for more consistency from his standout freshman. What he’s seen from Henry this offseason has been promising.

“He’s bigger. He’s faster. He’s stronger,” Bielema said. “I think he understands what it means to play in the SEC in an eight-game schedule, and hopefully beyond that.”

For Arkansas to go “beyond that” -- as in, the conference championship or a bowl game -- other players need to step up.

The defense got a boost from the return of defensive end Trey Flowers, who was second-team All-SEC last season. New defensive line coach Rory Segrest will “allow him to play faster and a little more aggressive,” Bielema said. And with new defensive coordinator Robb Smith in place, expect a slightly different look from the defense as a whole.

We'll let him work through the process, feed him as much as he can be fed and see where he can go with it. He's a guy that if he can play we will. If not we'll give him a redshirt year.

Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema on early enrollee quarterback Rafe Peavey.
“If you’re inside the huddle, you’ll hear a lot of things change," Bielema said. "We’re going to try and simplify it for our players and get them lined up quickly and put them in a position to play aggressively.”

Despite its 12th-place SEC finish in points per game allowed last season, the biggest question facing the Razorbacks isn’t defense. Instead, it’s who will start under center.

Brandon Allen started 11 games as a sophomore, ending the season 13th on the SEC leaderboard for passing yards per game (141.1). His double-digit interceptions (10) were the most troubling, though.

Bielema said he wants competition at quarterback this spring, all the while acknowledging that Allen has “gotten stronger” and is the favorite to win the job.

“In theory, the first time we yell out for the ones, he’s going to step out there,” Bielema said. “But ... there will be other guys who get opportunity. Who is able to produce and run the offense effectively and who gives us the best chance to win next year’s opener against Auburn will be at that position.

“If it’s B.A., that’s great. If it’s not, hopefully that next person is ready.”

Watch out for Rafe Peavey. The four-star prospect enrolled in January and has the tools to push Allen. Bielema likes Peavey's talent and “football junkie” attitude, but Peavey is still just a freshman.

“We’ll let him work through the process, feed him as much as he can be fed and see where he can go with it,” Bielema said. “He’s a guy that if he can play, we will. If not, we’ll give him a redshirt year.”

Peavey was just one of a handful of freshmen to enroll early, the four unknowns of the 88 players Bielema referred to earlier on the phone. When Bielema spoke to the Razorback Club that night, much of the talk surrounded recruiting, and with good reason. Approaching the second season of his tenure at Arkansas, Bielema is slowly putting his imprint on the program with the way he brings in players and the changes in attitude on the roster as a whole.

When Arkansas opens camp on Sunday, his message will be much as it was Wednesday night. The record is wiped clean, he’ll say. It’s time to launch forward.

“Don’t worry about what happened yesterday and focus on getting great today. At the end of this stretch we’ll all be better," he said. "We’ll take where we’re at, take all the things that were positive and all the things that were negative, evaluate it and move into the next phase.”

Things could not have gone much worse for No. 8 Arkansas on Saturday night. The Razorbacks lost starting quarterback Tyler Wilson to an "above-the-shoulders" injury in the first half. They saw starting cornerback Tevin Mitchel and starting fullback Kody Walker carted off the field during a herky-jerky third quarter. To top it all off, they watched Sun Belt squad Louisiana-Monroe waltz into War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Ark., and ruin their top-10 ranking with a 34-31 overtime upset.

Some quick, breathless reaction:

It was over when: ULM quarterback Kolton Browning looked for a play-action pass while trailing the Razorbacks 31-28 on fourth-and-1 in overtime. With his slot receiver covered in the flat to his left, Browning reversed field and took off through the Arkansas defense. Browning got the yards he needed for a first down and kept going, outrunning two Razorbacks defenders into the end zone for the upset.

Game ball goes to: Browning deserves more than one game ball for this performance. The junior threw a whopping 68 passes and completed 42 for 412 yards and three touchdowns. Browning didn't just save the Warhawks in overtime, either. His final passing touchdown of the night was a game-tying 23-yard strike delivered to wide receiver Brent Leonard on fourth-and-10 with just 47 seconds remaining in regulation. He led the Warhawks in rushing as well, with 15 carries for 76 yards and the winning score.

Hogs hampered by injuries: Wilson was the first and most notable Razorback to fall out of the affair with an injury. The senior left the game with what was described as an "above-the-shoulders" injury in the second quarter. Not only did he not return to the game, he also did not return to the Arkansas sideline. Mitchel was the next loss when he took a scary helmet-to-helmet hit in the third quarter. Play was stopped for upward of 10 minutes while trainers attended to the cornerback, who had to be carted off the field. Reports from the sideline said that Mitchel was responsive. Walker needed the cart moments later when he left the game with what appeared to be a leg injury.

The players' well-being means much more than any result, but it's discouraging that the suddenly injury-depleted Hogs must host No. 1 Alabama next weekend.

Giant killers: This is the second time in five years that the Warhawks have laid out an SEC West powerhouse. ULM famously upset Alabama 21-14 in 2007. The Warhawks travel to Auburn next week. Based on the way the Tigers played Saturday against Mississippi State, they should probably be worried.

Stopped cold: It looked as if Arkansas would survive the evening without Wilson when backup quarterback Brandon Allen fired a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mekale McKay to take a 28-7 lead early in the third quarter. But the Warhawks outscored the Razorbacks 27-3 from the 9:42 mark of the third quarter to the end of overtime. Arkansas converted just three of 12 third downs on the night.

Arkansas receives some good RB news

October, 19, 2011
Arkansas has yet to have all of its running backs at full speed this year, but coach Bobby Petrino said Wednesday that he thinks he could finally have three ready to go this weekend against Ole Miss with Ronnie Wingo Jr. getting back to full speed after injuring his toe.

Petrino said Wingo has practiced all week and “got his speed back.”

“It’s nice to have the three backs healthy again,“ Petrino said. “They all [bring] a bit something different to the table. If one of them gets hot, we’re going to make sure we feed him.”

Along with Wingo, the Hogs will have Dennis Johnson and Broderick Green to hand the ball off to against the SEC’s worst rushing defense.

Petrino also said former starting running back Knile Davis is progressing well with his rehab after his season-ending ankle injury during preseason camp.

“He’s out running and doing certain things under control,” Petrino said of Davis.

But not all the news about Arkansas’ running game was good. Petrino said freshman Kody Walker, who rushed for 68 yards and five touchdowns through the first three games as the Hogs’ short-yardage back, underwent surgery to repair a stress fracture on his shin.

Petrino didn’t give a time table for when Walker could return.

“He’s doing OK,” Petrino said. “It’ll take a while for that to heal.”