Hogs to get physical as preseason practice gears up

Arkansas guard Ricky Council IV scores during 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 Span and Italy. (University of Arkansas Athletics)

If the temperatures weren’t in the 90s, a Hog fan might mistake the month for November rather than the dog days of August.

Both Sam Pittman’s and Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks are hard at work currently, just like during the crossover period in the fall when Arkansas’ football and basketball seasons intermingle.

The gridiron Hogs are in the throws of preseason workouts, while their roundball counterparts are in the midst of summer tour of Spain and Italy where they will play three more games.

The Hogs trounced Valencia Selección, 108-59, Tuesday in their first game of the tour in Barcelona. Unofficially, five Razorbacks scored in double figures, including a game-high 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., had 10.

While the first game wasn’t competitive, it was a chance for the the Hogs— which boasts 11 new players among its 13 scholarship Razorbacks — to work together in game situations. Getting a jump start on the season this summer will no doubt be an advantage for the Razorbacks once preseason drills begin in earnest in October. Of course, Kentucky and Auburn are also taking summer tours, too.

While experience playing together will be limited going into the season, this Razorback squad oozes with talent, length, and size.

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

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

Arkansas was down early against Catalan Elite but pulled away for a 99-86 victory on Thursday.

The Hoop Hogs will be back in action on Saturday when they play Orange 1 Basket Bassano at 12:30 p.m. in Como, Italy, and Monday when they face the Bakken Bears at 12:30 p.m. also in Como, Italy. The 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 are taking a day of rest Wednesday before donning pads for the first time this preseason on Thursday with their sights on the first of two scrimmages, set for Saturday. That workout will be closed to fans and the media. The Hogs will also scrimmage on Aug. 20.

Freshly adopted NCAA regulations only allow two full-scale scrimmages in the preseason. In days gone by, three scrimmages were the rule of thumb in the preseason.

When Danny Ford coached the Hogs in the 1990s, some blood baths were waged in preseason. Even with that, Ford lamented that NCAA rules, implemented after his final season at Clemson in 1989 and prior to him taking over at Arkansas for the 1993 season, limited time on the field to just 20 hours a week.

When Ford built Clemson into a powerhouse in the the 1980s, he worked his teams until they executed properly, evidently 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 have the players primed, 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 was a bit more like Ford with long physical scrimmages.

Now, injuries are going to happen in practice. There is no way to be prepared for the season and to totally avoid them. They can happen at any time, too.

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

In 2007 Marcus Monk (No. 6 on Arkansas’ all-time receiving list with 2,151 yards) hurt his knee on a sideline grab late in practice when he was belted going out of bounds by a teammate. Just the day before, Razorback defensive coordinator Reggie Herring had griped in a media session about his troops not finishing off tackles properly.

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

Maybe, but it’s hard to say that definitively.

But Monk’s injury certainly hurt the Razorbacks’ passing game that season. He didn’t recover until midseason, and never truly recaptured the form he played with prior to that knee injury.

2022-23 Arkansas Razorbacks Football Schedule

Sept. 3 — Cincinnati, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Sept. 10 — South Carolina, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
Sept. 17 — Missouri State, 6 p.m. (ESPN+)
Sept. 24 — vs. Texas A&M
Oct. 1 — Alabama
Oct. 8 — at Mississippi State
Oct. 15 — at BYU
Oct. 29 — at Auburn
Nov. 5 — Liberty
Nov. 12 — LSU
Nov. 19 — Ole Miss
Nov. 25 — at Missouri

So what’s the point?

Injuries are going to happen in football no matter how careful coaches and player are. Teams need to practice smart, but they have to practice and they have to go full speed at times to improve and to be ready to play on Saturdays.

What seems to be improving at Arkansas under Pittman and his staff in their third season is the Razorbacks’ depth and ability to withstand some injuries better than the Hogs could a couple of years ago.

From listening to some of Arkansas assistant coaches in media appearances the last few days, it sounds as if the Hogs’ depth is in much better place in several areas this season.

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

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

Overall the Hogs’ depth appears better to me than it has in a while. That’s a testament to Pittman and his staff and the way he controls his roster in one of the most uncertain periods of college football in most of our lifetimes.

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

What hasn’t changed, though, is the physical nature of the game. As the Razorbacks move into the most physically stressful and demanding period of preseason camp — the next two weeks — there is a certain uncertainty ahead.

How healthy the Razorbacks come out of camp will play a big role in how effective the Hogs are during the first couple of 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. Blocking and tackling are still THE key fundamentals of the game, and the teams that do them best generally are the ones that win the most.

Contact can’t be avoided.