Time for Hog fans to get excited about fast-approaching season

Arkansas offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos / ArkansasRazorbacks.com

Has the bad taste from the Arkansas Razorbacks’ two-game spiral at the end of last season been washed out of your mouth, yet?

Are you getting fired up about Razorback football?

Are you be feeling a bit more optimistic about the Hogs’ chances this season, or does skepticism still reign when you think about the prospects for Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks this season?

I have to admit, it’s been a long seven-plus months since the 35-24 loss to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl, which only compounded the ill feelings over the 28-24 loss at Missouri in last season’s regular-season finale.

I feel my blood pressure rising right now from just casually mentioning them.

Those losses have cast a shadow over Razorback football ever since, but with the season opener less than three weeks away, it’s time for me to let that go and stop letting last season color my thoughts about this year.

But, I’ll admit that it’s hard.

The Razorbacks were in a position to win both of those games with double-digit halftime leads, and the Hogs should have won them.

While Arkansas’ porous defense and underperforming offensive line made it difficult for the Razorbacks to melt the second-half clock in typical Bielema style, it’s up to the coaching staff and ultimately Bielema to get the job done. That didn’t happen.

However, as mentioned before, it’s time for me to get over that as a Razorback observer and fan, if I am going to enjoy the upcoming season.

What might help is getting to see the Hogs in some semblance of action Saturday.

As a part of Razorbacks Fan Day, Bielema is opening the Hogs’ practice to fans prior to the other Fan Day activities.

It’s a good move. Heavy rain forced the cancellation of April’s Red-White Game, and while it was nice that the SEC Network televised the indoor practice, it’s not the same as going to Razorback Stadium to see and hear the action in person.

Fans getting to see the Hogs work with their own two eyes will give them something to think and talk about other than those two losses that loomed so heavily over the program during the winter, spring, summer.

There will be a lot to see in the practice Saturday.

While I wouldn’t expect Bielema to beat up his running backs in the scrimmage, it will be interesting to see how sophomore Devwah Whaley takes to being the lead Hog in the running game.

We’ll get to see what type of runner graduate transfer David Williams will be as a Hog. Can the former Gamecock truly help the Razorbacks this season? What about true freshman Chase Hayden? He made a standout 74-yard run in last week’s scrimmage. Will he do it again?

What about his fellow freshman Maleek Williams? One injury this year, and he will be in the playing rotation.

With Jared Cornelius off the 105-man roster and sidelined from practice until the UA begins classes on Aug. 21, it will practically be an all-new corps of receivers.

La’Michael Pettway, Jonathan Nance, Deon Stewart, and Jordan Jones have risen to the top so far with Cornelius and T.J. Hammonds both out with injuries.

The defense is, of course, the biggest question. The Razorbacks had one of their worst seasons on defense in the program’s modern history last year. I’m not sure if it was as poor as the 1990 season when Jack Crowe took over the coaching reigns from Ken Hatfield, but it was bad.

Of course the scheme is different with the switch to the 3-4 from the 4-3, but what I want to see is if there is a different attitude exhibited by the players.

Are they running to the ball, and are they excited and enthusiastic about playing the game? What is their level of confidence?

While I’m not insinuating that Arkansas was loaded with defensive talent last year, I do think the Hogs were capable of playing the game at a higher level than what we witnessed. There obviously were some issues with the defense last year that went beyond football.

Hopefully Paul Rhodes, who was elevated to defensive coordinator from defensive backs coach after Robb Smith was given time to find a new job at Minnesota, and the defensive staff have the air cleared so the players can perform at their best.

Arkansas has always had to overachieve to be solid defensively. It would be great to see some signs of that Saturday, even if it’s only in scrimmage situations.

It will also be interesting to watch the team leaders like quarterback Austin Allen, center Frank Ragnow, corner back Kevin Richardson and safety Santos Ramirez go about their business. How they and several other Razorbacks lead this team will be key to the success Arkansas achieves this year.

By all accounts, Allen had a splendid scrimmage last week, just like one would expect of a senior quarterback, but it will be interesting to see how backups Ty Storey and Cole Kelley perform. It’s conventional wisdom that Storey will be the backup as long as Allen stays healthy, but many think Kelley, with his strong arm and big frame, is the heir apparent.

I’m interested in seeing how the offensive and defensive lines conduct their business, too. If they can’t effectively do their job, it’s going to be a long season. However, if there is substantial improvement in those areas, it’s not farfetched to believe the Razorbacks could win eight or nine games this year.

I want to check all of that out, but mostly what I would like is for me and all the other Hog fans to leave Razorback Stadium with a renewed optimism about what this team can accomplish this season.

The Razorbacks kick off the season in less than three weeks.

It has been a long, hard offseason for Razorback football fans. It’s time to let last season go, and get revved up for this season.

Arkansas Fan Day Information

Bielema and players will host the Razorbacks’ annual Fan Day presented by Pepsi on Saturday at the Willard and Pat Walker Pavilion. The event will be open to the public and free for fans of all ages.

Parking is free and available in parking lots all along Razorback Road but recommend Lots 72, 73, 73A, 74, FB Lot, and Meadow Street Parking Garage that are closest to Gate 1.

Open Practice Before Fan Day Activities
The team will hold an open practice from 1 to 2 p.m., inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Gates will open at 1 p.m., and fans are asked to enter through Gate 1.

No outside food or drinks, other than bottled water, will be allowed inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium or Walker Pavilion.

In case of inclement weather, the open practice inside the stadium would be cancelled. Check ArkansasRazorbacks.com for more details on the day of the event.

Fan Day Activities
Fan Day activities will take place inside Walker Pavilion beginning at 2:30 p.m. Fans are asked to enter through the West doors that face Razorback Road.

Fans in attendance can pick up a commemorative poster and are invited to receive autographs from Bielema and their favorite Razorbacks from 4 to 5 p.m. In order to expedite the autograph process and accommodate as many fans as possible, please note Bielema and players will autograph one item per person and no posed photographs will be allowed.

A kid zone will feature inflatables throughout the practice center plus other fan activities including a photo booth, free caricature sketches and balloon art.

The Razorback soccer and volleyball teams will also be signing autographs on their official team posters. Fans will also have the opportunity to meet the Razorback Spirit Squads and Tusk.

Hog Heaven, the official team store of Razorback Athletics, will be open during the event and will have items to purchase such as footballs, mini helmets and hats to be autographed.

Junior Razorbacks Will Receive Early Entry
Members of the Junior Razorbacks will receive early entry into the Fan Day activities beginning at 2:15 p.m., and may enter at the Razorback practice field gate located next to Walker Pavilion off Razorback Road. This is an exclusive entrance for Junior Razorback members.

Razorback Athletics season ticket holders of any sport and Razorback Foundation members receive the added benefit of a free membership for up to four children.

1 p.m. – Gate 1 open at DWRRS (1:45 p.m. for Junior Razorback Club members at Gate 15N)
2 p.m. – Open practice concludes
2:15 p.m. – Junior Razorbacks receive admission to Fan Day event inside the Walker Pavilion (Enter at the Razorback practice field gate located next to Walker Pavilion off Razorback Road).
2:30 p.m. – General public receives access to Fan Day event inside the Walker Pavilion (Enter through the West doors that face Razorback Road)
4:00 p.m. – Coach Bielema and players sign autographs throughout the Walker Pavilion field area.
5:00 p.m. – Fan Day activities conclude.

Source: UA Sports Information