Bret Bielema on Why Austin Allen Projects as the 2016 Season Starter

Austin Allen
Courtesy Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.

Today, Arkansas head coach spent nearly 30 minutes discussing the state of the Hogs football program. In the below transcription, he talks about the health of running back Rawleigh Williams and the depth chart order the four quarterbacks.

He also urges new offensive lineman coach Kurt Anderson, a Chicagoan, to start rocking cowboys boots for the sake of Texan recruiting.

Bielema on the the Liberty Bowl aftermath: 

After the game we had a list of guys that needed to have medical follow up. Some guys who needed some random things that needed to get taken care of. We had a number of guys get into that. I’ll probably wait until we get back in school session because I haven’t been able to see those guys face to face yet to further comment on that. Nothing too serious, just some guys having follow up with the doctors.

I was able to hire an o-line coach. I know he’s coming in here to interview afterwards. I think Kurt is a very vibrant personality. He’s a guy that I had learned about during the recruiting process. He was actually the No. 2 rated linebacker coming out of high school, behind LaVar Arrington. Seems if he finished his career as a center he could tell which way those careers went and he’ll be the first to admit it. A very talented, valued asset to everybody that he had work with and who had been around. Dan, being a Michigan State guy, and when we first started talking about Kurt, and Kurt’s a Michigan guy, sometimes those things don’t mix together – but they had a lot of commonalities…

People just raved about what he was able to do… I thought it was interesting this year when he obviously filled in as the o-line coach because their coach had been suspended for the first seven games and they [the Bills] had led the NFL in rushing. Just a lot of positives around him. Been a great asset just in the first few days of recruiting as well. He brought a lot to the table. I think a very dynamic recruiter that can help us not only with o-line men but in other positions as well. Very excited about him.

Obviously, some other news to have the 3 guys declare for the NFL. I wish them the best of luck. Hunter [Henry], we had an extensive talk with him and his parents before the bowl game. I knew his rating when it came back was kind of low. We had envisioned and I think he has a very, very good chance of being the first tight end selected in the draft. An incredible career, an incredible impact on our program. I think back to he was my first recruiting call. I think that was one well spent. Right after of our media teleconference that first day I was announced.

Soon after that, I had been recruiting Alex Collins during my time at Wisconsin and then to come here and to have his career finish the way it did on that run, just is one that I’ll always remember. I think it was a very difficult decision for him as well. I sat down with a lot of his family and people. I think he was very, very torn, but his grade came out as a favorable grade to come out and prove his worth as well. I’m very, very excited for Alex and his next chapter.

Denver informed me via text that was sent to me on Wednesday. He told me on Monday he was going in the direction to make that next step. I wish him the best of luck as well as he moves forward.

Those are all 3 guys part of that first recruiting class. One that we hadn’t played a game yet and to have 3 guys that possibly could be the top in their respective positions in their respective grades, I think that’s a very, very good likelihood of them being that in that grade. I remember that class wasn’t all that highly regarded in the SEC, but had a national ranking I think was in the top third, I think somewhere in the 30s, somewhere in there. It’s not what you have when you walk in, it’s what you have when you walk out. I think those guys proved their worth.

We’ll start an 8-week conditioning in 2 weeks with Ben Herbert and the guys that we currently have. I thought it was very important for us to get a full 8 weeks. I think we have 2 types of rosters that are coming back. We have a group that is very experienced — very, very developed, very, very in-tuned to what we do, and then we have this next group that’s kind of going to have to fill in big ways that need a lot of work. We’re going to adapt our program a little bit than we have in the past. It’s something I’ve routinely done going into my 11th year as a head coach. Just trying to fit your roster a little bit better. I’m excited to work with Herb. We’ll do some things a little bit different than we’ve done in the past. Kind of lay that out as they go forward.

Then we’ll do all of our Spring practices post Spring break. Which we’ve normally gotten a week in before here before we left for Spring Break, but all of ours will come after Spring Break, with the Spring game coming on April 23. Our Pro Day is on March 9. That’ll be a big one. We got a lot of really, really talented players in large numbers, so I expect to get a good crowd for that (No doubt they’ll be looking to get the first taste of a high anticipated 2016 season, one in which Arkansas has been pegged with 50-to-1 odds of winning the national title).

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Q: Has Kody Walker indicated he’s coming back for a 6th season?

Bret Bielema: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yep, Yep. Kody, I found out he had a 6th year and I waited until the right moment to tell him and when I told him he had a 6th year, he had about a biggest smile as you’ve ever seen. I don’t think there ever was any doubt that that was something he was going to look forward to.

Q: Is there anybody that’s indicated they want a transfer out of the program?

Bret Bielema: Other than the ones we already knew about?

Q: Yeah, anybody since the bowl?

Bret Bielema: No. I don’t think so. I tell you what, I can’t confirm 100%, but I’m 99 percentile that Randy Ramsey will be with us in the Spring as a walk on player, a non-scholarship player. He asked if he could return and pay for his own way. I thought that was a good way to express his desire to be a part of what we’re doing as to pay his own way out of state. I think he’ll be with us in the Spring and see what he can prove. We, obviously, had a couple of mid-year enrollees that will be with us as well, but nobody leaving the program.

Q: How much extra work did Austin Allen get during the bowl practices and how about any of those other [backup] quarterbacks?

Bret Bielema: Yeah, I think we got in 16 practices and I believe 5 of those were developmental only, so a lot of really good, quality work for those guys. There was actually 2 practices that we didn’t let Austin practice. It was just those other 3 quarterbacks. Austin got in a lot of really good valuable work as the No. 1 guy when his brother wasn’t, when BA wasn’t even on the field. Then there were a number of practices where those next 3 quarterbacks got a lot of work without Austin being there as well.

We always talk about in the Spring there are No. 1’s. You got to have somebody go out and we’ll call the 1’s. It’s a coach’s perspective, but if that first group ran on the field, it’d definitely be Austin [Allen]. If the second group ran after, it’d be Rafe [Peavey]. If the third group ran out there, it’d Ty [Storey] and then Ricky [Town] just based on really time in the program. Now what they do with it this Spring is going to add a lot of influence on how fast certain people can move up or down the depth chart.

Q: Have you talked to Rawleigh [Williams III]?

Bret Bielema: Yeah. I just texted him yesterday. Rawleigh reached out to me on my birthday and wished me a happy birthday. Polite child. I said, “How are you feeling? How’s things in Dallas?” He said “Feel great, Coach. 100% ready to go.” I do know that we’re doing a couple extra things with him medically just to appease not only us but him, mom, as we should. I don’t think he’ll do anything with us this spring other than go through maybe drills, non-contact, or anything like that. But before we step on that field as a contact player, we’re going to make sure everything’s clear.

Q: Did you say you recruited Kurt as a linebacker …?

Bret Bielema: You know what I remember the name. His brother was a great player at Michigan. Other brother played at Northwestern. Dad played somewhere. His brother, his uncle, his grandfather played for our team, so he’s had a long, long history of football players. I remember the name coming out of high school and it was kind of interesting I had talked to Brady Hoke this morning. I saw him at the National Championship game and he actually played the o-line for Brady Hoke at Michigan as well.

Everybody that’s ever been around Kurt as a player, as a coach just raves about him. Then you know I have one of my former players, Geoff Herbert, who plays for the Bills on their offensive line and then Chris Gray, of course, had a lot of really good things to say about Kurt as well. I had a variety of different people giving me information. I narrowed it down. I had gone in the direction of 2 or 3 different NFL guys. My final 4 guys were all NFL coaches. Great technicians.

I thought we could make a big jump in techniques in some things that we haven’t done much around here. Pre-snap reads. I thought Eric did a nice job really during our bowl preparation. We changed our stance on a few things that I knew Kansas State would key in on. They really study those things up.

Q: What separated him from the other guys? He seems relatively young.

Bret Bielema: Yeah, he’s 37. Several things. I like the fact that he’s a dad and got 5 kids, from Chicago. I like the career that he had. You know it wasn’t all that it was knocked up to be. He played multiple positions and he settled in the o-line. Did a great job there. I think players that develop through college a lot of times become great coaches because they had to be coached, so they learned how to be coached. I got on the internet one night and found his Twitter account and was very entertained by sayings and slogans. He brought in a program when we brought him on campus here that laid out kind of what he envisioned the o-line to be. I thought it was very creative and very dynamic.

He believes and he wants to be an o-line coach. He doesn’t want to coach tight ends. One of the main reasons he wanted this job is to have his own o-line room and I thought that was very important to me.  I had some guys with 10-15 years of NFL experience that were intriguing to me, but I didn’t know if they’d bring the dynamic factor I needed here. Nothing jumped out to me big .

Q: … Do you have any concerns about his [coaching] transition back to college?

Bret Bielema: You can know a recruiter when they walk in the room. You know someone that’s got dynamic personality. Who’s organized. He’s a very, very detail-orient. So much today is technology-driven and the packets and things that he prepared for me that were through his own hands were off the charts. I know some recruiting service had labeled as the Chicago area scouter/recruiter of the year out of Eastern Michigan, which isn’t a normal thing. I reached out to 3 high school coaches who he he had recruited players there of high value, just asked about that and why they went there. Everybody had the same response: “Over-prepared. Great work ethic. Honesty. Integrity.” Just all the things that you could ask for in a recruiter. He’ll be very dynamic.

As you know, I don’t hire resumes. I hire people. I really don’t care what the outside world feels. I go by what I feel and what I need and what I see. He checked off in every category.

On his outlook of the team:

Bret Bielema: We’ll see in the Spring. I like a lot of depth. I like the fact that you have a player in Keon Hatcher who was probably one of our best players a year ago coming back after a year of basically rest. He didn’t get a chance to play in games. I know he’s chomping at the bit. I think the emergence of Drew Morgan and Jared Cornelius, those two guys are very, very, very special players.

Cody Hollister came back after his injury and did some good things. I think we had 2 Freshmen that red-shirted that might be very, very special. I think of La’Michael Pettway and Deon Stewart proved to us that their very, very talented players. I’m excited about that group.

Q: You have some good talent particularly on the offensive line, but are you at all worried about the numbers?

Bret Bielema: … I want to sign a minimum of 4 offensive linemen. Might grow to 5. There’s some growth within our program that I think will help us out as well. I think we have a chance to improve in probably 2 of the 3 positions that we lost. I think what you can’t replace or hard to replicate is the leadership that Sebastian Tretola had in our program. If Denver came back, we were going to move him back into guard, if at all possible. A lot of that depends in the next couple of weeks how some things turn out in recruiting.


On the schedule for spring football practice:

Bret Bielema: On Tuesday after [spring break] we’ll start. We’ll go Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for 5 straight weeks and then 2nd, 3rd and 4th week we’ll go on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and that’ll be our 15 practices.

On the possibility of more changes within his coaching staff:

Bret Bielema: That’s a good… Deep breath today. I had an offensive or an NFL head coach call me today about a coach that is one of my former coaches, but I held my breath just because I didn’t know what was coming. It was about a former coach that worked for me that they were asking questions about.

The world of college football changes every day. NFL is making a lot of moves and people know people. To my knowledge, I don’t have any going on right now, but that literally could change by the time I walk up to my office. It’s just something … I know I hire good coaches. The NFL has taken 5 of my guys. College coaches take my guys all the time to become coordinators and head coaches. We’ll just see how it plays out.

On Kurt Anderson’s recruiting territory:

Bret Bielema: I think I’m going to let him have Chicago a little bit. He’s got a great reputation there. I think it’s something that really could be open for us and then I’d like to put him in East Texas. I think he’s got a personality that’s big and bold and could roll in there pretty good with a pair of cowboy boots.

I think the NCAA, unless something happens dramatically, they’re going to allow us to go off campus for these 1-day camps at satellite camps. I could see us going into Detroit. Going into Chicago. Maybe going into Wisconsin or Minnesota, just because of my experiences up there and then 1 in Ohio. Maybe just take a week with our staff to kind of take a Midwest swing and swing at some people.


This is Part 1 of the Bielema’s press conference transcription.   Part 2, in which Bielema discusses how much current NFL coaches love Jeremy Sprinkle’s game, is here.

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