FAYETTEVILLE – After Arkansas’ first preseason scrimmage last Saturday, Coach Sam Pittman stands convinced the Razorbacks have more defensive linemen capable of allowing coordinator’s Barry Odom defense to do more things than it did last year.
The additions of defensive ends Tre Williams and Markell Utsey from the University of Missouri, head coached by Odom from 2016-2019 after Odom coordinated defenses for retired Mizzou Coach Gary Pinkel, and defensive tackle John Ridgeway from Illinois State, and the improvement of lettermen D-linemen Isaiah Nichols, Dorian Gerald, Eric Gregory, Jashaud Stewart, Zach Williams and Taurean Carter has Pittman envisioning Odom’s multiple defenses employed at Mizzou.
Last season’s Arkansas defensive depth was so top heavy in the secondary compared to the D-line that a 3-2-6 scheme with both a nickel and dime back became a near every down standard.
Constantly dropping eight back in coverage surprised and stifled then red hot quarterbacks K.J. Costello of Mississippi State and Matt Corral in early-season upset victories but the Hogs were burned for 52 and 50 points their final two games with their 3-man line unable to stop the run or generate a pass rush.
“”They did a nice job of rushing the passer,” Pittman replied when asked about Saturday’s scrimmage pass rush. “Tre Williams might have had two or three sacks. I know he had two, may have been more. Utsey, Ridgeway, I mean, you look at the guys we had from last year. I think Dorian Gerald has had a really good camp. He’s put on weight, about 270 now. He had a good day today, as well. Taurean Carter is continuing to come along, Eric Gregory, Stewart…”
Other than graduated to the New York Jets defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall, Pittman wasn’t singing such praise for his defensive line this time last year.
“From a group that we were very concerned about as far as depth and starters and all that, it’s kind of taking shape a little bit,” Pittman said.“Those guys got after the quarterback, and a lot of times they were in a 3-man rush. Certainly we had a 4-man rush, as well.”
Coaching Georgia’s offensive line, which included three NFL drafted during Pittman’s 2016-2019 time assisting Bulldogs Coach Kirby Smart, Pittman said he became all too well acquainted with Odom’s multiple schemes in the annual Georgia vs. Mizzou SEC East game and Williams at the end of it.
“The last two years that I was at Georgia I had three guys who went in the first round,” Pittman said. “And Tre gave them all trouble when he was at Missouri. He’s giving our guys trouble, too. He’s fast, he’s long (6-5, 255) he’s quick, high energy, high motor. Utsey (also a D-end) the same way. John Ridgeway’s the same way. Now John (a D-tackle) is a different cat. He’s 6-5, 325. He’s not quite got the quick-twitch that Tre does, but certainly has a lot of value.”
All-SEC safety Jalen Catalon said Williams and the D-line force quarterbacks early to show their hand.
“He’s a great defensive player and he just brings havoc to the quarterback,” Catalon said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “He keeps them on their toes. I can always see the ball coming out quick because he’s always back there.
And it isn’t just him. The whole D-line has done a great job.”
On the offensive front, last spring’s anticipated impact of University of Charlotte transfer Ty’Kieast Crawford thudded a dud.
Crawford reported in “no chance” spring shape, Pittman said in retrospect.
A summer regime under strength and conditioning coach Jamil Walker apparently changed all that.
“I think Ty’Kieast Crawford is going to be in our two-deep,” Pittman said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “He’s coming along, getting a lot better.”
For the Razorbacks second to last preseason football practice week and last without next week’s start of University of Arkansas fall semester classes, Pittman will maximize the open schedule both to prepare for afternoon game heat and morning kickoff wakeup calls.
Other than last Saturday morning’s scrimmage, Pittman has practiced the Razorbacks in the afternoons anticipating what could be a scorching Sept. 4 for Arkansas’ 1 p.m. season-opener at Reynolds Razorback Stadium against the Rice Owls.
But reviewing what he felt were drowsy 2020 starts whenever the Hogs were assigned 11 a.m. kickoff time slots, Pittman wants also wants morning drills before the start of classes dictate practicing in the late afternoon.
“Monday and Tuesday is going to be in the afternoon, then we’ll come back in spiders (less than full pads) on Wednesday and we’re going to start practicing in the morning,” Pittman said.
Pittman said from Wednesday on this week the Hogs will practice in the morning including Saturday’s final preseason scrimmage.