The NCAA’s new penalties for targeting players has created plenty of buzz this summer. And for good reason. Anyone penalized will be ejected from the game.
So the Razorbacks spent some time discussing the new rule with Steve Shaw, who is the Southeastern Conference’s coordinator of officials, on Thursday. Shaw – who is traveling to every SEC campus this preseason — met with Arkansas to go over every new rule for the 2013 season, but targeting was the prime topic of discussion.
That’s because the veteran SEC official described it as "the most significant rule change in my tenure" earlier this summer.
"Playing time is a motivator to our players, and we think this will have a pretty significant impact," Shaw said during SEC Media Days.
Everyone can agree the rule has good intentions. Protecting players is the goal in an era where concussions have become a clear threat to the game. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said the concern from coaches is that any ejections are warranted.
Bielema is a member of the NCAA rules committee that discussed the issue at length before it was adopted. One other item of importance in the new rule: Instant replay will be used before ejections become official. Bielema said there’s still a lot of "boom, boom" plays, but replay could help "deter any potentially bad situations."
"I think the positions that are most at risk, to be quite honest, are (defensive backs) that are making plays on balls," Bielema said. "Maybe the ball is underthrown and all of a sudden they can’t go for the ball and they’ve got to go for the player.
"It’s just a potential, a lot of room for gray. Hopefully we’ll clean it up."
Defensive coordinator Chris Ash is optimistic Arkansas won’t be affected.
He said the new penalties for targeting won’t alter the way the Razorbacks teach players this preseason because they emphasize tackling in a safe manner to begin win. What happens from there is out of a coach’s hands.
"I’m trying to control the things that I can control and the way we teach our guys is all I can do," Ash said in late July. "What an official interprets out on the field one way or another, I can’t control that. But yeah, that’s a concern."
So Shaw’s time on campus Thursday provided an important tutorial for Arkansas players about what can be expected from officials as they judge collisions this fall.
"You definitely want to be aggressive. You definitely want to attack," Arkansas linebacker Daunte Carr said. "But targeting with the head, with the helmet and going head-to-head contact is something that you don’t want to do.
"You want to play it safe. That’s about football and that’s what football is about these days and how it should be. Playing it safe."
Arkansas will open its practice doors for the first time this afternoon.
The Razorbacks announced that the scrimmage in Razorback Stadium, which was originally closed, was opened to the public.
"We’re ready to play some full-out ball," Arkansas tackle Grady Ollison said Thursday. "These first couple days of camp, it’s been a lot of drills, and we’ve installed a couple plays here and there. But in terms of just playing flat-out ball, just all out, we haven’t really done that yet. So I’m looking forward to Saturday."
It won’t be a four-quarter affair like last spring’s Red-White Game. Instead, Ash described it as a "situational" scrimmage with Arkansas working on specific items like third and 12 or third and short. But it will be a valuable first test for the Hogs.
"When the fans show up, naturally the players, some players have never been on the field with fans," Ash said. "They get a little bit nervous. Now, thankfully we had a great turnout at the spring game and it helped alleviate some of that. But the energy, the excitement, the enthusiasm, all that stuff just kind of goes up another notch when fans are out there. They want to put on a show."
Not much contact
Arkansas was in full pads for the first time Friday afternoon, but it sounded as if the practice didn’t include much contact.
Ash said Arkansas didn’t do any live tackling on the field and will instead save it for Saturday’s scrimmage. The practice also ended a little quicker than usual, something linebacker Braylon Mitchell said the Razorbacks appreciated.
"Coach B took care of us (Friday)," Mitchell said. "He let us get out of practice a little early (Friday) so that we’ll be fresh for the scrimmage."
New position, new number
Carr is settling into his new position at middle linebacker after bulking up to 235 pounds in the summer. The junior also decided this summer he wanted a jersey number more fitting for a middle linebacker.
So Carr has traded in his No. 24 for No. 52. The Georgia native, who wore his old number during spring practice, said it was simply time to change.
"I just wanted something new," Carr said. "New position. New coaches. New style. New chemistry. So I just chose a different number."