Pittman discusses players for Outback Bowl after Tre Williams’ exit

Nate Allen

With Tre Williams out, Jashaud Stewart, Eric Thomas and Zach Williams became these ends up on a Arkansas defensive flank vs. the 7-5 Penn State Nittany Lions in the 8-4 Razorbacks’ Jan. 1 Outback Bowl game at 11 a.m. CST on ESPN2 in Tampa, Fla.

Tre Williams, a defensive end graduate transfer via the University of Missouri and University of Houston, turned professional for the NFL draft Sunday afternoon after a 1:11 a.m. Sunday arrest in Fayetteville and charge of driving while intoxicated.

Tre Williams has started every game and is Arkansas’ best pass-rusher with a team leading six quarterback sacks.

Sophomore Stewart of Jonesboro lettered in 2020 playing eight games on special teams and has made seven tackles playing every game as a special-teamer/reserve defensive end.  Thomas, a sophomore from Pensacola, Fla., lettered in 2020 playing seven games, mostly on special teams, for the 3-7 Hogs  This season Thomas has  played in 11 of Arkansas’ 12 games and made five tackles. 

Zach Williams, a junior from Little Rock Joe T. Robinson and son of  former Razorbacks linebacker great Rickey Williams, has the most experience as a 3-year letterman.   Zach Williams has made 57 tackles for his three seasons including 23 in 2021. He made five tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2021 and forced a fumble.

I think we’ll be fine, first of all, Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said after Monday’s practice of filling Williams’ shoes.  “Jashaud Stewart, Eric Thomas would take some of those. I think that would be the guys that would take more than what they normally have. We’ll move (defensive tackle/end)  Eric Gregory out there some. We have a few more inside players. It depends on if we play more three or four-down front, which we’ll play both, but I think that’s probably who, off the top of my head, would take the extra reps.”

Then in one of those “I could have had V-8” type moments he remembered Williams.

“I forgot to mention Zach Williams,” Pittman said.  “I think his reps will amp up, as well.”

Since Williams’ eligibility would have been done anyway post bowl game, Pittman was asked if would be a sort of defensive end audition into the 2022 season.

“I think it’s going to help us in the long run,” Pittman said. “Certainly no one wanted what happened to happen, but it did. We handled the situation as quickly as we possibly could. Those guys will all be back next year, so I think it will be a nice little audition for them.”

Because of current second-year freshman backup quarterback Malik Hornsby’s potential as a runner, Ole Miss transfer Kade Renro’s potential as a passer and redshirt freshman Lucas Coley’s dual threat potential,  Pittman opted not sign another quarterback in last week’s early signing behind KJ Jefferson, the third-year sophomore starting all 12 games in 2021.

Now with Renfro’s knee injury as younger players and reserves scrimmaged, Pittman may be eyeing the transfer portal or another quarterback.

“Towards the end of the scrimmage, Renfro just planted, a non-contact injury,” Pittman said. “He has an  ACL, so he’ll be out for a while. I’m very sad for him, the whole team is. It’s a part of the game you wish we could get rid of, but it certainly happened.”

Does he eye the portal for 2022?

“It certainly makes you look numbers wise,” Pittman said. “I think if you ended up doing that, you’d certainly need to sit down and talk to Malik and KJ about it before you ever would do it. I don’t know if it’ll happen or not, but it seems like it’s headed that direction number-wise. But Coley’s getting a lot of reps right now, as well. So I think you’d have to wait a little bit over the next week and a half to find that out, whether you felt comfortable there or not.”

Williams joins first-team All-SEC receiver Treylon Burks foregoing the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft.

Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith, the Nittany Lions’ second-leading tackler, also has announced he is foregoing the bowl game to prepare for the bowl.

Arkansas senior cornerback Montaric “Busta” Brown of Ashdown appears apt to turn pro but not before playing in the bowl game.

Though listed as a senior, Brown has the option of returning to the Razorbacks because the NCAA restored 2020 eligibility for all who played during that covid disrupted campaign.

Asked if Brown has definitely decided to turn pro after the bowl, Pittman said, “Well, not to me he hasn’t. Right now, I don’t know what he’s going to do. He hasn’t come and talked to me, but right now I would say he’s probably not going to come back. But I haven’t had that conversation with him yet.”

Hudson Clark operates at the other first-team corner, Pittman said.

Clark and LaDarrius Bishop have battled back and forth for two years at the corner opposite Brown.

Second-year freshman offensive lineman Jalen St. John was not spotted during the portion of Monday’s practice that media was allowed to observe.

“Well, St. John has been hurt,” Pittman said.  “He was not at practice today. So I’m not positive what’s going on there, I got to talk to him.”

JJ Hollingsworth, a defensive lineman from Greenland, and Kaden Henley, a linebacker from Springdale via Shiloh Christian, are two of Arkansas’ signees last week as graduated at midterm high school seniors. They are  enrolling at the UA in January and  eligible to participate in the on campus bowl practices. Both participated Monday as they best could being rookies practicing with a team heading for its final game.

“It was awesome to see them looking around lost,” Pittman said, smiling.  “I walked up to them a couple times and said, ‘Hey, you see all these guys around here? They were lost, too. Just kind of fit in where you get in.’ They ran scout team today and went through individual. They have no clue what’s going on, but they’re so excited to be in Arkansas here.  It’s fun to have those guys here.”

The Razorbacks will practice here through Thursday morning, be free immediately after that workout to go home for Christmas then regroup Sunday in Fayetteville and fly together to Tampa and resume bowl practices there Monday.

Last week’s practices had been devoted strictly to conditioning and working on fundamentals.

Monday’s practice introduced varsity working against Penn State’s plays conducted by Arkansas’ offensive and defensive scout teams.

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