In his new role as Illinois head football coach, Bret Bielema brought a lot to life in Arkansas.
He brought in a player – former Arkansas fullback Chase Hayden, as a transfer. Hayden followed Alex Collins and Felix Jones as one of only three real Arkansas freshmen to run 100 yards or more on his debut with Razorback.
Bielema has also hired at least three former Arkansas football and AG players (see below).
He also brought a lot of pink optimism to Illinois, just like he did when he arrived in Arkansas after three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances in Wisconsin.
Things haven’t gone so well in that first season in Arkansas with just three wins, but Bielema is more optimistic about how the 2021 season will unfold for Illinois, a schedule that hasn’t seen a big hit. winning season for a decade.
He came out of spring training with several key senior ghosts (eg linebacker Jake Hansen, offensive tackle Vederian Lowe and quaerback Brandon Peters) a solid and seasoned offensive line.
Best of all, he made sure everyone took note, not a single Illinois soccer player decided to transfer in the spring release.
My God, how the winds have changed.
Earlier this week, within 24 hours, the following six Illinois soccer players announced they would be leaving the program:
OL Blaise sparks
OL Brevyn Jones
DL Anthony Shipton
WR James frenchie
DL Tre’von Riggins
RB / WR Kyron Cumby
None of the players who were leaving were scheduled to play big minutes in 2021.
They played a total of 116 snaps last season and, as Illinois Inquirer’s Jeremy Werner sees, that number would likely have declined in 2021.
âIt’s a big deal and Bret Bielema, even though he’s on his honeymoon, has the pressure to win right away,â Werner said on the Illinois Inquirer podcast.
When players don’t fit a certain system or a certain coach, the coach is usually pretty honest about it – they say to them “Hey, we don’t see a way forward for you.”
This is probably what happened with these six players.
âThere were 19 offensive linemen in spring training competing for the practice game, not to mention playing time,â Werner noted.
âSo it was obvious that there was going to be some turnover in this room. So if you add Kevin Tyler and Pfeiffer Griffin, two freshmen in red shirts, withâ¦ Blaise Sparks and Brevyn Jones, it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of turnover in this offensive lineup, because there just aren’t a lot of opportunities to play there. “
Bret Bielema did not have to have his own type of linemen for a more powerful attack.
âYou’ll see more doubles teams instead of shooting all the time, which was the case with the previous staff,â under Lovie Smith, Werner said. âIt’s going out and space. Can you move These people, they want guys who come out of the ball and really good quality people in front of them. “
In short, Bielema is looking for the same kind of Hogs who did the damage for him in Arkansas – guys like Sebastian Tretola, Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper. We’ll see if he’s able to recruit and develop the same caliber of linemen without Sam Pittman, however.
The wide outlets probably weren’t a good schematic fit due to their small size.
âThey are fast, they are fast, but it will be a more physical attack,â Werner said.
âI think the blockage is going to be bigger, and they won’t have that many three sets of receivers. They gonna run this, but it ain’t gonna be like it was all the time [former OC] Rod Smith for the most part.
âSo Tony Peterson is going to run a lot in close doubles. You’re going to see two tight ends and maybe a full back at times. And it will run three sets of wide receivers. But with Isaiah Williams moving into that slot, Donny Navarro is there. You have other large receivers coming in. You move Marquez Beason to the wide receiver. You moved Jafar Armstrong there.
It also frees up places on the roster for Illinois to go after the 2022 wide catcher rookie class like Chas Nimard of Bentonville High School, who is also an Arkansas target.
Some level of attrition is inevitable with every change of coach, but it’s rare to see so many players leave at the same time at one time, especially so long after spring training has ended (although less a transfer was likely with a deadline of July 1 to announce entry to the transfer portal).
“I think the timing is really bad for the players,” Werner said. “If it could have happened in May, it would have made a lot more sense for the players” and their ability to secure a place in a new team.
If Bret Bielema knew that some or all of these six players were not going to be a good candidate in the future, why not have the conversation with them in May? It could have helped them more.
He should have had more time to resolve the issue, after all, since his lawsuit with Arkansas was settled.
We do not know the exact reasons for these transfers, nor if Bielema had already had conversations with them before June.
Regardless of what happened, this suddenly announced group exodus is not good for the Illinois football schedule.
âI don’t think it will have a big impact, but it’s not the greatest of public relations that it all happens on the same day,â Werner added.
Hear his full breakdown of Illinois and Bret Bielema football here:
Chase Hayden (running)
2019 JUNIOR (Arkansas football)
- Played in four games and wore a red t-shirt the season
- A paltry four receptions for 12 yards over the season
- Won 79.5 in pass blocking over the Pro Football Focus season
2018 SOPHOMORE (Arkansas football)
- Played in all 12 games
- Ranked third on ground team (251 yards)
- 11 receptions for 61 yards over the season
- Recorded 55 yards on 11 carries at Colorado State 9/8/18
- Season high, 12 carries for 30 yards vs. Ole Miss 10/13/18
- Season-peak 70 yards in five carries against Vanderbilt 10/27/18
- Top five receptions of the season for 17 yards vs. Vanderbilt 10/27/18
- A season-high 26 on two catches against Alabama on 10/06/18
2017 FRESHMAN (Arkansas football)
- Played seven games
- 49 carries for 249 yards and three touchdowns this season
- Average 5.3 yards per carry over the season
- 14 carries 120 yards on college debut against Florida A&M 08/31/17
- Won the freshman of the week SEC after the game against Florida A&M 8/31/17
- His 120 rushing yards are the 14th by a true freshman in Arkansas single game history
- 77 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown in 13 carries against Texas A&M 9/23/17
- Two rushing touchdowns and 48 yards on 12 attempts against New Mexico 09/30/17
- Became Arkansas’ first true rookie to run with multiple touchdowns in a game since 2011
Tenarius Wright (Director of Football Strength and Conditioning)
Wright was the assistant strength and conditioning coach in his alma mater Arkansas from 2014 to 2017, where he first worked on Bret Bielema’s staff.
Tank Wright helped Arkansas produce one first round pick, one second round pick, two fourth round picks and nine fifth and seventh round picks.
Wright stood out for the Razorbacks from 2008-2012 as a linebacker / defensive end, registering nine quarterback sacks and 20 tackles for losses and serving as a team captain as a senior in 2012.
He was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week after Arkansas’ 47-19 win over Texas A&M at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas for his three tackles, two TFLs, one sack and two forced fumbles.
He was then signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before trying for the Kansas City Chiefs in a rookie mini-camp and spending time with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. (via communications from Fighting Illini)
Kevin Richardson (graduate assistant coach in defense)
Richardson played for Bielema in Arkansas from 2013 to 2018.
He played 48 games for Arkansas as a defensive back, recording 125 tackles, four interceptions, eight assists and was a team captain in 2017.
The biggest moments of the former walk-in included a 22-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Ole Miss in 2017 with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to help Arkansas win 38-37, and interceptions. against SEC stars Jalen Hurts (Alabama) and Jarrett Stidham (Auburn).
After his career as a footballer in Arkansas, Kevin Richardson signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from the CFL before starting his coaching career.
Taylor Reed (graduate assistant coach in defense)
Traylor Reed worked for Bret Bielema and the Arkansas football program from 2016 to 2017, working primarily with quarterbacks.
In Arkansas, Reed assisted coach Austin Allen, the SEC’s top passer in 2016, who threw for 3,430 yards, including 2,291, the league’s best in SEC play, and totaled 25 touchdown passes.
Reed joined the Razorbacks after being signed up for Central Arkansas as quarterback from 2013-2015, where he threw for 1,809 yards and 14 touchdowns in 23 games over three seasons.