Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman Talks COVID-19 & Football

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE  – New Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks were supposed to start spring break Friday afternoon after three spring football practices with 12 more awaiting after University of Arkansas spring semester classes reconvened  March 30.

Obviously that didn’t and won’t happen. The coronavirus pandemic  created a national emergency that last week closed the UA, and presumably all campuses, reducing the curriculum  to online studies for the remainder of the semester, and  canceled  all intercollegiate athletic competition.

Some kind of NCAA allowed spring practices in  June seems the best that Pittman can hope for if indeed restrictions created by this worldwide virus can be lifted by then.

If the pandemic induced restrictions linger into the summer, the Razorbacks, mostly already returned to their homes, won’t be encouraged or likely even allowed to return to the Fayetteville campus for summer school and assemble to work out in the weightroom and 7 on 7 drills before and after class.

So the conditioning portion of the early August preseason would have to be stressed more than ever.

“We can’t just bring them back and immediately start football,” Pittman said Friday on a UA arranged teleconference.  “So, we’ve been talking with our strength staff about those things.”

All got sent workout instructions by new strength coaches Jamil Walker and Ed Ellis.

“As far as we know, they’re telling us that they are working out each day,” Pittman said.   “So, we’re trying to keep them in shape and trying not to lose the gains that we’ve made.”

Weights, unless they have them at home, could be hard to come by. Gyms and health clubs seem potential virus breeding grounds with equipment shared and so much inadvertent  close contact even as social distancing is nationally stressed. Some ingenuity may be required.

“We’re hoping they have access,” Pittman said. “That’s what we’re doing calling them each day and trying to stay in touch  with them.”

Not only about conditioning but reminding that the semester hasn’t ended even though the classes aren’t in classrooms.

“A-No. 1 is academics,” Pittman said. “Making sure we have all our kids eligible and ready to go. Make sure they are working out.”

And eating  right on their own.

“Yeah there’s concern about that because we have nutrition staff, meals here for them here, Pittman said.  “There’s concern about maintaining weight and there’s also concern about guys gaining too much and coming in here out of shape. All we can do is talk to them about it.”

Only 21 players, none who lived in dorms, remain nearby campus, Pittman said.

The coach of the biggest offensive line in the country by the end of his 2013-2015 tenure with former Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks before moving on to coach Georgia’s offensive line,  Pittman discovered a comparatively scrawny line with previous Coach Chad Morris emphasizing  quickness for his uptempo offense that never accelerated.

Shane Clenin, Ricky Stromberg and Myron Cunningham are linemen Morris particularly cited for “gaining a lot of strength” before their workouts were interrupted.

Graduate transfer quarterback Feliepe Franks (broken ankle last fall while a Florida Gator) and redshirt freshman quarterback KJ Jefferson, (shoulder) aren’t 100 percent recovered but enough so they would have practiced had there been drills, Pittman said.

Defensive end Dorian Gerald, granted an extra senior year when a strained artery in his neck during the first game sidelined him for the season, “has been cleared,” Pittman said. “ “He’s had a good offseason and  is getting in much better shape.”

Linebackers Bumper Pool  and Hayden Henry and offensive linemen Noah Gatlin, Ty Clary and Dalton Wagner are among those who wouldn’t be practicing coming off various injuries and medical procedures.

Pittman asserts all should be ready for the preseason practices, whenever they may be.

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