Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has high hopes for his incoming freshmen in 2017. Bielema said the team’s early enrollees have been “unbelievable” in adjusting to the program.
“The really surprising thing to me is the volume of the nine new guys that showed up,” Bielema told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette at the school’s pro day Wednesday. “It’s been unbelievable how well they’ve fit in.”
He said Korey Hernandez, a three-star prospect from Ellenwood (Ga.) Cedar Grove, has been “very, very good” at corner. Hernandez originally was projected as a safety.
The versatility of senior Kevin Richardson II, expected to become the leader of the secondary, gives Arkansas plenty of options on defense.
“He’s one of the few guys in my coaching career that can literally play all four positions (corner, nickel, free and strong safety),” Bielema said.
Bielema said he was impressed by all three offensive linemen — Kirby Adcock, Shane Clenin and Dalton Wagner — entering as early enrollees.
At this point, Bielema said his first-team offensive line would be Colton Jackson at left tackle, Hjalte Froholdt at left guard, Frank Ragnow at center, Johnny Gibson at right guard and Jake Raulerson or Brian Wallace at right tackle.
Bielema said Jackson has made the biggest improvements.
“He’s taken a step forward in competitive nature, and I’m really excited to see him play,” Bielema said.
Other than tight end Grayson Gunter (shoulder) and linebacker Dre Greenlaw (foot), Bielema said the rest of the team is expected to be ready for spring practice, which begins March 28. Arkansas is the last SEC team to begin spring drills.
Bielema said sophomore T.J. Hammonds will be playing primarily at wide receiver after entering the program as a running back.
Bielema also discussed the December incident that got tight end Jeremy Sprinkle removed from the Arkansas roster. Sprinkle reportedly was accused of shoplifting various items from a Belk store in Charlotte only days before the Razorbacks were set to play in the Belk Bowl.
“I think he got overwhelmed in a bad moment and made a bad decision,” Bielema said.
He described his reaction to the news about Sprinkle.
“I knew that I had a moment that could change the path of his life,” Bielema said. “So when I got the phone call that night that (the incident) happened, I hung up the phone, walked over and told (assistant coaches) Dan Enos and Barry Lunney — we were about five feet apart having dinner — and I said he’s not going to be in the bowl game.”
Bielema said he made the decision right away, without waiting to discuss it with other athletic department officials.
“I wanted to be firm with him because I knew what was in front of him,” Bielema said. “If he thought he could dance around this one, he might try to do it in the future.”
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