Arkansas Football: How Recruiting Strategy Has Changed Under Bret Bielema

Bryan Heater@@BHeaterRivalsCorrespondent IJanuary 5, 2014

Head coach Bret Bielema
Head coach Bret BielemaNelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting has developed into almost somewhat of a science. It is very meticulous, and coaches spend hours on end analyzing prospects to find guys that will best fit their game plan and style.

When a program changes head coaches, the new one comes in and implements his philosophy on the field and on the recruiting trail. Very rarely does the old coach's philosophy match the new one's, as was the case when Bret Bielema was hired to be the Arkansas Razorbacks head coach. 

After the now-infamous Bobby Petrino saga, the Razorbacks named John L. Smith as the interim coach for 2012 and he kept the style Petrino had in place. But, once Arkansas tabbed Bielema as the next Head Hog, he brought in a system much different from Petrino's pass-happy offense.

Bielema's Wisconsin teams were notorious for their ground-and-pound style on offense, big, husky linemen and physical defenses.

Him bringing that style to Arkansas has drastically changed the program's recruiting strategy. 

Under Petrino, the emphasis in recruiting was on the offensive side of the ball. Because his offense passed to open up the run, and not vice versa, the focus in recruiting was speed. That meant fast wideouts and running backs, as well as nimble offensive linemen who weren't as strong or as big as the guys on a Bielema-coached team.

Petrino also wasn't known to recruit great defensive players, though he did haul in some very talented defenders during his four years. 

With Bielema, the focus has shifted to recruiting players that are big, strong and physical. 

The biggest impact seen so far in the change in recruiting strategy, has been the influx of talented offensive linemen. In just two months on the trail after taking the job in December 2012, Bielema reeled in 4-star prospects Reeve Koehler and Denver Kirkland, and 3-star mammoth Dan Skipper, who stands at 6'10".

So far for the class of 2014, the Razorbacks have three O-linemen on board. Jovan Pruitt and Sebastian Tretola, both 3-stars, have great size and fit exactly what Bielema is looking for. The third is 4-star Brian Wallace, who chose the Hogs (subscription required) over Alabama and Iowa at the U.S. Army All-American Game. 

A big part of all the highly ranked linemen jumping on board has been thanks to O-line coach Sam Pittman, who the Hogs gave a hefty raise to $550,000 before he even coached in a game after Alabama made a run at him. As Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com wrote, Pittman has had a huge impact on the recruiting trail. 

There's also been a big change in recruiting on the defensive side, particularly for the defensive backs. In Petrino's five recruiting cycles, including 2012 before his fall from grace, the Hogs signed 19 defensive backs. Bielema has already landed nine, a number that could rise before the 2014 class is wrapped up. 

As stated, Petrino did land some very talented players on the defensive side of the ball, but there is a much bigger emphasis on defense with Bielema leading the charge. Petrino never recruited a ton of talent in the secondary or at linebacker, and it had a negative effect in Bielema's first season as both positions struggled mightily all year. Though Arkansas has just two linebackers currently committed, you can fully expect Bielema to make it a top priority leading up to national signing day and in future cycles.

The Razorbacks had a very rough season, but you have to remember that the players were playing in a whole new system. Many of them were recruited to Arkansas to fit Petrino's scheme and had trouble adjusting to Bielema's style, which is power football.

The change in recruiting strategy is going to bring in guys that are fit to play in Bielema's hard-nosed, physical style, instead of prospects that are more based in schemes for speed and finesse.

It always takes time for a program to fully grasp a new scheme and bring in prospects that fit it, but Bielema is working toward turning the Hogs into those country-strong teams that beat teams down physically while he was at Wisconsin. Rome wasn't built overnight, so have some patience because he's slowly reconstructing Arkansas to be what he envisioned when he took the job.

Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.


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