By Robbie Neiswanger
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert said the Razorbacks should be a relatively healthy team when spring practice begins Sunday.
Herbert is also confident the group on the field will be physically prepared as well.
“Our goal with the winter program … was to develop a bigger, stronger football team,” Herbert said.
Herbert, who is wrapping up the initial phase of his first offseason with the Razorbacks this week, is confident it happened during the two months he spent with Arkansas during its winter strength and conditioning program. The Razorbacks were officially introduced to new coach Bret Bielema’s plans for the program — at least in the weight room — and Herbert said “across the board guys responded very well to our training methods and coaching style.”
The proof will be in the product on the practice field, of course.
But Herbert said he has been impressed by the overall consistency from the Hogs.
“They were good initially,” Herbert said. “They responded well. But they really have been able to sustain it over time and that to me is the most impressive part.”
Herbert said leadership was key to the making sure it took place this winter.
He credited players like defensive ends Trey Flowers and Chris Smith, defensive tackles Robert Thomas and Byran Jones as players who led the way defensively.
Herbert said center Travis Swanson and fullback Kiero Small for being influential leaders offensively. But the influence by the two seniors has stretched across the board, leaving impacting players on both sides of the ball.
“I think the best thing about those two guys is that they compliment each other so well,” Herbert said. “They’re two different guys. They come from two different backgrounds. They mesh so well. … Guys just seem to respond well to those guys.”
Herbert touched on several players who have taken strides in the weight room in the offseason during his 20-minute teleconference with the media.
He said running back Jonathan Williams has “done great things” as he prepares for his role as Arkansas’ top returning back this spring. Herbert also thinks redshirt freshman defensive end Deatrich Wise “has a chance to be a stud.” He also said running back Kody Walker has performed well, although he will remain limited during spring practice because of last season’s broken leg.
Four junior college signees are on campus this semester and will participate in spring drills, too. Herbert said one of them – defensive back Carroll Washington – has gone from 169 to 182 pounds during the eight-week program.
Herbert said the other three – offensive lineman John McClure, defensive back TQ Coleman and linebacker Myke Tavarres – have also performed this winter.
“They were guys that adapted quickly to the environment,” Herbert said. “They seemed very comfortable with their new teammates. They definitely showed up hungry and ready to attack whatever was put in front of them. …
“They were definitely able to change their bodies and move forward.”
The eight-week winter weight-lifting period is just the beginning of Arkansas’ offseason plans. The summer program will begin shortly after spring practice wraps up on April 20 and Herbert said it will be even more critical for the program.
But Herbert is confident the winter was a good start for the Razorbacks in their first offseason under a new coaching staff.
“In the winter you’re trying to develop chemistry, you’re trying to develop a stronger football team,” Herbert said. “It’s not as much running volume, there’s not as much conditioning volume. There’s some, but it’s to develop a stronger team, develop your team chemistry and really start to develop an identity.
“There’s a level of preparation, but it’s not the same. It’s not nearly what it will be when we get ready for August, but they’re definitely where we’d like them to be at this point and we definitely still have a lot of work that we need to get done.”