FAYETTEVILLE – Before addressing Friday’s closed scrimmage to media on a Zoom press conference, Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman opened revealing a closed team meeting.
The meeting addressed player concerns over national racial strife and Blacks killed or wounded by police. Since March nationally publicized incidents include Breonna Taylor shot and killed when Louisville police raided the wrong residence, George Floyd dying of suffocation under a Minneapolis policeman’s knee and most recently Jacob Blake shot multiple times in the back by an arresting officer in Kenosha, Wisc.
“First of all I want to talk to y’all about a very powerful meeting we had before practice on the situation in Kenosha, Wisc., with Jacob Blake,” Pittman said. “I am proud of our football team in the things that came out of that meeting were very beneficial to myself and very beneficial to their other teammates. I’m 100 percent behind our football team and our players.”
Pittman said there will be a team statement next week and that post scrimmage media available players Isaiah Nichols and Trelon Smith would have statements..
Nichols, a third-year sophomore backup defensive tackle from Springdale, said, “We want to cause justice for the cops that killed Breonna Taylor and also the recent incidents that happened with Jacob Blake. We are going to be using our voice. We’re here to bring people with us. We’re not trying to be negative and spread hate. We just want to be able to make a difference and spread our love to show how we have come together.”
Of the meeting , Smith, the third-year sophomore running back that the Chad Morris regime last year had to redshirt as a transfer from Arizona State, said, “Everybody got a chance to speak their mind and what was important to them. We’re going to create a movement, just to show the people in the state of Arkansas and around the country that we care about the things going on in today’s society with the police brutality, racial profiling and things like that.”
Both players said they appreciate the support that first-year head coach Pittman and staff provide.
The 120 plays in full pads in 90-degree heat showed even a hard summer of weightroom and drills don’t necessarily completely translate to the field.
The hard scrimmaging included 50 plays with the first and second units, Pittman said.
“I think we have to get in better shape,” Pittman said. “We’re not there yet, nor did we think we would be. It was hot out there and we had a very lengthy scrimmage. I thought the kids fought through it but we’ve just got to get in better shape.”
Nichols said that comes with practicing football.
“There’s no amount of training that can put you in football shape,” Nichols said.
Nichols said Friday’s first scrimmage, tougher than the first scrimmages he recalled under former Arkansas Coach Morris, was a good start.
“I would say today was definitely one of the harder practices I’ve been in,” Nichols said. “It was very physical and I like that a lot. Because with good teams you need to be physical in the trenches. They don’t call it the trenches for no reason.”
Pittman was asked how his No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks, Feleipe Franks, the graduate transfer and former Florida Gators starting quarterback, and mobile redshirt freshman KJ Jefferson fared.
“Feleipe, it was probably his most accurate day,” Pittman said. “KJ did a little bit more with his feet. I thought both of them played well. Certainly we missed a few throws that we have to make because every down is so critical. But I thought both of them went in the two-minute drive and went down the field and did a good job.”
Pittman said the receivers “dropped some passes in critical situations but they also turned around and made some magnificent catches.”
Franks threw touchdowns to wideouts Treylon Burks and Michael Woods and two TDs in red zone situations to tight end Hudson Henry.
Jefferson threw a TD to wideout De’Vion Warren.
Knowing what 1,133 yards rushing senior running back Rakeem Boyd can do, Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles turned most of Friday’s game to Trelon Smith, “a tough man,” Pittman said, and Razorbacks All-American relays track sprinter turned running back Josh Oglesby.
“ Oglesby was a great addition to us,” Pittman said. He’s not a great big guy (5-8, 174) but he’s a strong runner. Obviously everybody knows he’s fast.”
Defensively, linebacker Deon Edwards recovered a fumble near the goal-line. Defensive backs Montaric Brown and Micahh Smith each recorded a lost-yardage stop.
“I liked the way we chased the ball early,” Pittman said. “We’re just not in good enough shape yet to play. I don’t know the scrimmages they’ve had in the past, but this was a very physical, long scrimmage.”
The Hogs appeared to get through Friday without significant injuries, Pittman said.
Noting there’s time later to refresh for the Sept. 26 opener against Georgia, Pittman said the Hogs are tired and sore apt to stay that way. They’ll practice hard Monday through Wednesday and wage their final preseason scrimmage next Friday.