Arkansas strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert spent almost 22 minutes talking to the media Thursday during a teleconference. Below is the complete transcript.
Ben Herbert identified several leaders he's seen emerge for Arkansas during the off-season.
Herbert's opening remarks
As of right now, we are finishing up the eighth week of our winter training cycle. The first week of training was really baseline evaluations so we could get a good understanding of who these guys were physically, what their capabilities were, what they weren’t, address some deficiencies and just get a good understanding of where we needed to go and what we needed to get done over the course of the next seven weeks, which really brings us to today. Ultimately, we’ll have a competitive environment today from a conditioning standpoint with the coaches, and we’ll finish actually their first training cycle tomorrow and then prepare for spring ball here on Sunday.
Q: The four junior college players that are enrolled – Ti Coleman, John McClure, Carroll Washington and Myke Tavarres – what are your impressions on them, and what are some things they need to improve on as far as the weight room and stuff?
A: First and foremost, I have a very good impression on all of those guys. I think right out of the gate, they were guys that adapted quickly to the environment. They seemed very comfortable with their new teammates, and they definitely showed up hungry and ready to attack whatever was going to be put in front of them. I think across the board, you look at the eight-week cycle and what those guys were able to accomplish, they all definitely were able to change their bodies and move forward.
To talk about Myke a little bit, Tavarres, a guy physically as talented – probably a guy, athletically and some of the things that he does in the weight room – as talented a guy as I’ve seen. He runs extremely well. He’s strong and explosive. Loves the work. He has a strong desire to get better. He’s going to be a guy to watch for in the fall.
TQ Coleman will be another guy. I think, that really physically is special. He’s a strong kid. He likes to work. Strong desire to get better. Very similar to Myke. He has great quick. He gets in and out of cuts and his agility work and body control is outstanding.
Carroll Washington put on 13 pounds in seven weeks. The guy started at 169 pounds, I think he was, he’s right about 182, 183 right now. Has done some great things. Excited to watch him compete.
Johnny McClure has really … he’s a big, thick kid that has started to decrease some extra body fat he’s had. A guy that likes the weight room. He likes the squat rack. He likes to do all those things the big guys need to do well.
Center Travis Swanson is one of the leaders on the offensive side of the ball, according to Herbert.
They’re all four a great addition and I definitely see them as contributors for us as we move forward.
Q: Who would you say are some of the real leaders in the weight room, the guys that can just kind of take charge of everything and also really impress you with their skills in there?
A:Some of the guys that have jumped out, off the top, guys – and it’s a combination of guys that communicate the message and guys that just implement the work ethic and the approach that you’d like to see. It’s a combination of those two.
But guys that really have jumped out, Travis Swanson without a doubt is a guy that’s been outstanding. A clear-cut leader, I think, on offense, he and Kiero Small have been two guys that have stepped to the forefront.
On the defensive side of the ball, you’ve got guys like Trey Flowers – doesn’t really say a word but is one of the most respected guys on the team, how he works day in and day out, just his approach. Doesn’t say much. Chris Smith has made tremendous strides. A guy that’s respected obviously for his physical talent and some of the things that he’s done. But he’s become a little more comfortable being comfortable and bringing guys along. Those two D-tackles are very spirited guys, Byran Jones and Robert Thomas. On the back end, it’s been an interesting combination. Really you’ve got, in different capacities, Tevin Mitchel, Eric Bennett is stepping up a little bit. You’ve got Rohan Gaines who’s getting a little more confident.
On the defensive side of the ball, it’s a little more by committee. It seems likes on the defensive side of the ball it’s a little more by committee. I think on the offensive side, it’s pretty clear-cut. In my opinion, from what I’ve seen, Kiero and Travis Swanson have definitely assumed that role.
Q: Is there another group of guys that you see as being really picked up your style, what you wanted to get done, and accomplished that, that are different maybe than some of the leader-type guys you mentioned there? Just guys who really, really performed well in the winter?
A: I think the fortunate thing is that it’s been more than less. I think across the board, guys have responded very well to our training methods and to our coaching style. I think there’s a lot of guys, just to throw some guys out there offensively – the wide receiver group, and there’s a number of guys, Julian Horton, D’Arthur Cowan, Mekale McKay, Jevontee Herndon, Demetrius Wilson. There’s six, seven, eight guys in there day in and day out they’ve started to change their bodies. And then the way they approach for a wideout group, they really embrace the weight room.
Mitchell Loewen looks like a two- or three-year starter instead of a walk-on, Herbert says.
Jonathan Williams has done great things. Excited to see him.
The guys up front, at tight end and the offensive line spot, I tell those guys, you’re going to set the table for success, for what you want to do on the football field, in the weight room. I think those guys, initially, in my opinion, was they weren’t real comfortable training their lower bodies and doing some things that were new. But talk about embracing the weight room, those guys up front, it’s going to be fun to watch them continue to develop. Because we still have a ways to go. But they’ve attacked everything. I had the O-line, tight end group, quarterback group finish – they’re the ones that finish each day, Mondays and Wednesdays they’re the last ones to go. They get a chance to make that last impression. They’ve done great.
I tell you what, those two tight ends, Alex Voelzke and Mitchell Loewen … and I don’t think Loewen even played tight end before. And I guess they were walk-ons. Those two are turning into guys that are really starting to flourish. It’s going to be exciting to see if they can carry it over onto the field.
Defensively, some of the guys that I’d mention, some of the young guys, some of the young D-linemen. DeMarcus Hodge at D-tackle, Darius Philon did great. Deatrich Wise, I think, has a chance to be a stud.
Linebacker, Jarrett Lake, and I don’t know how he’ll hopefully carries over to the field, but he runs well and he’s as strong as any guy I’ve been around.
So there’s a number of guys that are really, they pop out to you day after day after day, week after week. and their consistency as been the thing that’s the most impressive. They were good initially. When we got started, they responded well, but they really, they’ve been able to sustain it over time. And that, to me, is the most impressive part.
Q: What would you say, just kind of the headlining ... going into spring, how well prepared do you think the guys are overall?
A: The goal, really our goal in the winter program was just … my main goal, Coach (Bret Bielema) and I talk, was just develop a bigger, stronger football team. I think overall preparation, it’s more of an importance and it’s more of a focal point when you’re in the summer to prepare guys for the ringers, the different stresses of training camp cause it’s day after day after day. There was a football emphasis. Our approach is always, you take what you do in the weight room, you apply it ultimately on the field. We’re not trying to develop competitive weight lifters. It’s a combination of – you always have a football focus, but it’s not as much relevant. In the winter you’re trying to develop chemistry. You’re trying to develop a stronger football team. There’s not as much running volume. There’s not as much conditioning volume. There’s some, but it’s develop a stronger team, develop your team chemistry and really start to develop and identity. So I think there’s a level of preparation. It’s not the same. It’s not nearly what we’ll 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.
Q: This group, the returning group, went through a lot mentally and emotionally last year, too, as well. Wanted to get your take on how well those guys have handled it since you got your hands on them and just trying to put it past them and move on and prepare for spring football under a new coaching staff.
A: The biggest thing that I’ve taken away from the conversations I’ve had with guys, and the thing that I’ve heard, is that you have a lot of guys, the two years prior, became accustomed to having success. And from words that I’ve heard from them, I think guys, they appreciate having to go through the struggle of last year because it taught them that it’s not guaranteed. Success is not guaranteed. You have to earn it week in and week out. Just because you’re successful one year doesn’t mean – even though you may have a similar team back – you can just as easily lose it. There are a number of different dynamics that go into that. But you had a team that was, I think, when they sat and watched all those other teams participate in bowl games, the process of mentally and physically for them to become hungry and to want to come back and want to work and want to do all the things that they need to do to get back – not only to where they were but take it a step further – just that level of success that guys want to have. They want to be successful. They want to do what it is they’re asked to do in order to be successful. I think there’s a lot of guys that are moving in the right direction. There’s still a little bit of a guys that want to talk and don’t want to walk as much. But that’s minimal. And I think guys really, they have a strong desire to go out and want to compete and be successful
Q: And you mentioned Small and Swanson. How important, when you do have a lot of young guys, that went through some bad stuff last year, to have veterans like that who know what it’s like to be able to pull everyone through?
A: It’s everything. And I think the best thing about those two guys is that they complement each other so well. They’re two different guys. They come from two different backgrounds. But yet they mesh so well. The respect for both guys, across the board, it’s just a broad range of guys that respect those guys and respond to those guys. Offense, defense, young, old, how they conduct their business, just the way they go about it. They have different experiences, but guys just, they just seem to respond well to those guys, and I can see why. The way those two, how they conduct their business day in and day out, they say what needs to be said. They don’t overstate anything, and they work their tails off every day. So it’s easy to fall in line and want to follow a guy that leads like they do.
Q: I had a question about a few guys in particular, one being Kody Walker. How’s he coming back from his injury? Can we expect to see him this spring? And then the young offensive linemen, Jeremy Ward and Cordale Boyd, how have they progressed? And also, Grady Ollison’s another guy we always heard needed to add some more weight before he would be ready and had a lot of talent. Can you comment on those guys?
A: To start off, Kody Walker, physically, I think he’s a stud. He’s a big, physical, dense kid – 240-plus pound guy that is rock solid. I’m excited. He’s continued to develop. He’s continued to progress. I think he still has a ways to go. I’m sure he’ll be involved in the spring in a limited role. I’m not exactly sure the timeline. That’s something more that Matt Summers and the training staff will dictate. But he’s excited about the progress that he’s made and he wants to continue to move forward.
Some of those young O-linemen, Jeremy Ward, really excited about how he approaches the weight room, how he moves, he moves well. He’s a strong kid. He’s undersized right now. He still has, he’s going to be a guy that has to continually impress. He’s a guy that I beat up every day about, ‘Feed your body. Feed your body. Feed your body well, it will flourish. Hydrate. Get the right amount of sleep. Take care of yourself.’ Cause he puts the time in the weight room. And he’s a lean, he’s a dense guy, but he has to over time, we have to put a little more mass on him. It doesn’t have to be crazy, but he’s in that 283-285 range. Just need to see him continue to move forward.
Cordale Boyd, again I have no clue what he’s capable of on the football field, but I love everything that he does in the weight room. He’s a strong of a young guy … he’s as strong and he’s as balanced, head to toe – upper body, pressing strength, puling strength, lower body strength … His approach. He’s as good of a young guy in the weight room as any guy that I have seen. He’s really … if he can carry over – and I have no clue if he can yet or not, we’ll see – but if he can carry over the things that he does, he has a chance to be very successful.
Grady Ollison, another guy that has really started to buy in, feeding his body. He’s starting to understand it’s not just about the weight room. The weight room is part of it, but if you break your body down, you don’t set the table nutritionally … He’s a guy I always, ‘You have to consume more high-quality calories than you burn.’ And he’s a leaner guy, for a guy up front. He has a lot of lean mass. Doesn’t have a lot of body fat. High metabolism, burns calories. He has to consume more high-quality calories than he burns, and it’s a work in progress. Teaching him how to eat, teaching how to hydrate day after day after day, so he can reap the reward of what he does in the weight room is the key for him. Cause he’s a guy that’s going to have to work at it to get that lean mass, to work at it, to get where he needs to be. But a guy I definitely think, athletically – he moves very well – as he gets stronger, he’ll have a chance to be a really good player for us.”
Q: In terms of guys who are coming off surgery, tweaks, what-have-you – like Walker, like Small, there are some others – who all is ready to go, and who all is probably going to be limited this spring?
Based on what I’ve seen, I would say Kody Walker will have some limitations. I haven’t seen anything from Kiero. He’s been outstanding. I think early I may have heard about his foot one time in regards to it got a little sore. And I haven’t heard about it since. He’s been outstanding. Really, that’s about the extent of it. So I would assume you would see, as we progress – little things always pop up, but you’re going to see a relatively healthy football team that everybody can participate to some extent.
Q: A.J. Turner is a guy that played undersized. How is he progressing? And you mentioned a couple of walk-ons. Any others that kind of impressed you in this eight-week period?
A.J. Turner, I think, is a guy who’s one of my biggest challenges right now. Because I hear that he’s done some good things on the football field. He doesn’t necessarily bring the sense of urgency off the field like he does some days in the weight room. … There’s days he comes in, he’s great. There’s days he comes in and he’s OK. But like I tell him … I need you to be consistent. He’s a smaller frame guy. But to be successful in this league, you don’t have to be 250 pounds, but you have to put on some lean mass. You have to get them to continue to progress. He has to feed his body. He has to hydrate. That’s his biggest challenge. From everything I’ve heard – again, I haven’t see him play – but from everything I’ve heard, he’s a talented football player. His sense of urgency in terms of doing the things that he needs to do to really help his body develop, he has to eat well, combined with he has to be consistent in the room. His desire is there. We have to make sure it’s there every day in the weight room and out of the weight room. But a guy I’m excited about to see, as he does continue to develop, see him just become even more special than guys say he already.
The walk-on situation, I’m excited about the kid at left tackle, (David) Hurd. Having a couple conversations with him, he’s done a great job of changing his body. He’s a guy at left tackle that’s a former walk-on. He’s a quieter guy, but he’s been as driven and as dedicated as anybody and a guy that I tell constantly how much pride you have to take in how you play on the offense line at this university. But playing at the left tackle spot, that’s a premier position in this gang, and you have to embrace it and you have to make sure you put yourself in a situation to go out there and be dominant and protect our quarterback. But he’s been outstanding.
And then those two tight ends (Loewen and Voelzke), I can’t say enough about those guys. Walk-ons, to me – we’ve had a lot of walk-ons in my past that I’ve seen be successful – and those guys right out of the gate, I didn’t know they were walk-ons. But they’ve made a difference. I think they have very bright futures. Mitchell Loewen, I don’t think he’s played the tight end position before. But it was one of the things I told Coach B. I thought he was a two- or three-year starter. He bends well, he’s strong, he’s aggressive. Interested to see him get comfortable and go out and apply some of the things that he does, because he’s a big, physical kid who has a little bit of a streak in him. He’s going to be a fun one to watch.