Andy Hodges

Players coming back in worries some, but sign of progress for most Hogs’ fans

Players can start conditioning drills Monday at Arkansas (and everythwere else) but the rules should be changed to allow for voluntary OTA camps in June.

In a year unlike any other, players in fall sports return to campus Monday for the “voluntary” workouts that tend to have 100% participation and it’s dual feelings for some.

With Covid-19 positive results still climbing in Arkansas some worry. With testing increasing rapidly, the overall positive numbers are going to go up proportionately.

Arkansas feels it has a plan in place to effectively manage positive tests, which is also probably going to be an ongoing process for a few more months.

This is the first phase of sports resuming as I pretty much suspected it would all along. It’s too large of a business to not resume and with online education becoming increasingly popular through the pandemic things may never return to what was normal before March.

But there will be sports.

For the majority of Razorback fans, players starting conditioning drills is a huge sign of progress. Sports fans have agonized through the premature ending to basketball season and wiping out what was likely to be a big year in baseball.

Let’s face it, many of us were expecting the Hogs to still be getting ready to go back to Omaha right about now.

Instead, everyone is talking about players reporting back to campus for conditioning drills.

The coaches, though, can finally return to being coaches.

“It’s hard to coach when there is nobody to coach,” Sam Pittman said on a Zoom teleconference last week. “That’s our whole life and we need these kids back. Hopefully they need us.”

He may be peeking out windows and finding excuses to wander around the football center a little more. His office is on the other side of the building from the weight room.

“You still have issues of getting in the building and there’s one entrance to the building,” he said. “The bottom line is that entrance is not over here by my door, and we’re not able to go into the weight room.”

The coaches don’t have to duck into a closet when they see the players but can’t really talk much football. All of that is due to previously archaic rules that haven’t been updated to deal with modern sports.

Maybe this situation will force changes that should have come about long ago to allow something similar to the OTA-type workouts pro leagues in various sports have.

While still labeled “voluntary,” players know they’ll get behind if they don’t show up ready to work.

Pro coaches have embraced them for years because it cuts down on players disappearing at the end of the season and showing back up for training camp. That’s needed far more at the collegiate level.

“The greatest thing is to know exactly where they are, that they’re here and that they’re able to get in conditioning,” Pittman said.

What he didn’t say is it’s easier for them to be assured of getting square meals, too. The Jones Center will be open and they will be fixing meals in accordance with state safety guidelines.

For some players that is important.

The NCAA and the conferences should allow OTA-style workouts to be held starting in June. Go ahead and call it voluntary if it makes you feel better, but players should be allowed to work out with a ball and actually be coached.

“A big part of injuries is not knowing what you’re doing, going the wrong direction, not fitting the right gap,” Pittman said. “There’s conditioning, there’s strength, then there’s knowing what you’re doing.”

Nobody’s saying they should put the pads on in June and get after it. Just walk-throughs, passing skeletons..

“We need terminology on the field, we need technique on the field, we need all of those things that we didn’t have the opportunity to get in spring ball,” Pittman said. “We need to be able to do it, and it doesn’t have to be a tackle situation or anything like that. We’re just trying to learn.”

It should be more than a one-year thing. It would benefit players in all of the sports to be able to have these style practices.

“We’ve talked about it and we’re prepared for it,” Pittman said. “It just depends on what the hours situation is, to be honest with you, how much they’re going to give us, eight or 10 hours .. if they go to 12, if they go to 20, whatever the hours are, but we need on-the-field movement. We need walk-throughs, things of that nature that we didn’t get a chance to get to.”

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