Pigs to get physical as pre-season training gears up

Arkansas guard Ricky Council IV scores in the Razorbacks’ 108-59 victory over Valencia Seleccion on Tuesday, Aug. 9 in the first of four games on the team’s foreign tour of Spain and Italy. (University of Arkansas Athletics)

If the temperatures weren’t in the 90s, a Hog fan might confuse the month with November rather than the August heatwaves.

The Razorbacks of Sam Pittman and Eric Musselman are working hard right now, just like during the fall crossover period when Arkansas’ football and basketball seasons intertwine.

The gridiron Hogs are in the process of kicking off pre-season training, while their football counterparts are in the midst of a summer tour of Spain and Italy where they will play three more games.

The Hogs beat Valencia Selección, 108-59, in their first match of the tour in Barcelona on Tuesday. Unofficially, five Razorbacks scored in double digits, including a record 21 by Nick Smith Jr. Trevon Brazile, who was 5 of 5 from the field, and Kamani Johnson, who had five offensive rebounds, each scored 12 points. Ricky Council IV added 11 points and Barry Dunning Jr., 10.

While Game 1 was uncompetitive, it was a chance for the Hogs – who have 11 new players among their 13 stock Razorbacks – to work together in game situations. Starting the season this summer will no doubt be a advantage for the Razorbacks once preseason drills begin in earnest in October. Of course, Kentucky and Auburn also host summer tours.

Although the playing experience together is limited at the start of the season, this Razorback team is brimming with talent, length, and size.

Top to bottom, it looks comparable to the top teams fielded by legendary Razorback coaches Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson. Maybe better?

What the best Sutton and Richardson teams had that this one doesn’t is the experience of playing together. That’s why this tour and the training time leading up to it was and is so valuable to the players, Musselman and his team.

Arkansas will be back in action on Thursday against Barcelona Todo-Estrella at 1:30 p.m., on Saturday they will face Orange 1 Basket Bassano at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Como, Italy, and on Monday they will face the Bakken Bears at 12:30 p.m. also in Como, Italy before returning in Fayetteville. Games can be streamed on FloHoops.com.

Arkansas running back Dominique Johnson has been named to the watch list for the Early Campbell Tyler Rose award. (University of Arkansas Athletics)

The Football Hogs will take a day off Wednesday before donning pads for the first time this preseason on Thursday with their sights set on the first of two scrums, scheduled for Saturday. This practice will be closed to fans and the media. The Hogs will also face off on August 20.

Newly passed NCAA rules only allow two full-scale scrimmages during the preseason. It used to be that three scrums were the basic rule in the pre-season.

When Danny Ford coached the Hogs in the 1990s, there was bloodshed in the preseason. Even with that, Ford lamented that NCAA rules, implemented after his final season at Clemson in 1989 and before he took over at Arkansas for the 1993 season, limited time on the field to just 20. hours per week.

When Ford turned Clemson into a powerhouse in the 1980s, he worked his crews until they performed correctly, obviously no matter how long it took.

Philosophies change over time. Houston Nutt tried to be wise with the stress he put on players during preseason. His idea was to groom players, but he also didn’t want to overwork key performers like Cedric Cobbs, Fred Talley, Derek McFadden or Felix Jones. He wanted them to have fresh legs for the games.

Bobby Petrino looked a bit more like Ford with long physical scrums.

Now injuries are going to happen in training. There is no way to be prepared for the season and avoid them altogether. They can also occur at any time.

Razorback running back Knile Davis broke his leg early in a scrum under Petrino in 2011.

In 2007, Marcus Monk (No. 6 on Arkansas’ all-time receiving list with 2,151 yards) injured his knee in a sideline late in practice when he was belted out of bounds by a teammate. Just the day before, Razorback defensive coordinator Reggie Herring had insisted in a media session that his troops weren’t completing tackles properly.

Did Herring’s comment lead to Monk’s injury?

Maybe, but it’s hard to say for sure.

But Monk’s injury certainly hurt the Razorbacks’ passing game that season. He only recovered halfway through the season and never really got back to the form he was playing before that knee injury.

2022-23 Arkansas Razorbacks Football Schedule

September 3 – Cincinnati, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)
September 10 – South Carolina, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
September 17 — Missouri State, 6 p.m. (ESPN+)
September 24 – against Texas A&M
October 1st —Alabama
October 8 — in the state of Mississippi
October 15 — at BYU
October 29 — in Auburn
November 5 – Freedom
November 12 — USL
November 19 —Ole Miss
November 25 — in Missouri

So what’s the point?

Injuries are going to happen in football no matter how careful coaches and players are. Teams have to train smart, but they have to train and they have to go full speed sometimes to improve and be ready to play on Saturday.

What seems to be improving in Arkansas under Pittman and his team in their third season is the Razorbacks’ depth and ability to withstand certain injuries better than the Hogs a few years ago.

Listening to some of Arkansas’ assistant coaches in media appearances over the past few days, it seems the Hogs’ depth is much better in several areas this season.

While a receiver like Treylon Burks is irreplaceable, it looks like the wide receiver room is deeper and more talented across the board than they have been in years. The same can be said about the secondary, offensive line and running back positions of the Razorbacks.

Injuries to Taurean Carter in the spring and Cam Ball in practice left the depth of the Hogs’ interior defensive line in a precarious position early in camp. Arkansas’ top three linebackers, Bumper Pool, Drew Sanders and Pooh Paul, stand out, but behind them the depth is mostly unproven.

Overall, Hogs depth feels better to me than it has in a while. It’s a testament to Pittman and his team and how he controls his roster in one of college football’s most uncertain times in most of our lifetimes.

Between the new transfer rules and NIL, it really is a new day in college sports.

What hasn’t changed, however, is the physical nature of the game. As the Razorbacks enter the most stressful and demanding period of preseason camp – the next two weeks – there is a some uncertainty ahead.

The health of the Razorbacks coming out of camp will play a big role in how well the Hogs perform in the first two weeks of the season, if not longer.

There will be some injuries, but no football team can improve or reach their potential without being physical. Blocks and tackles remain THE key fundamentals of the game, and the teams that do them best are usually the ones that win the most.

Contact cannot be avoided.


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