FAYETTEVILLE – Call them Greenbacks: Razorbacks offensive linemen Ty Clary, and Dalton Wagner, tight end Blake Kern, running backs Trelon Smith and AJ Green, defensive backs Jalen Catalon, Myles Slusher, and Jermaine Hamilton-Jordan, and linebacker Zach Zimos wearing green noncontact jerseys during Thursday’s practice.
Call them all likely wearing active duty Razorbacks red, Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said after the practice, when Arkansas opens its season Sept. 4 hosting the Rice Owls in a 1 p.m. kickoff at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Hogs have been waging preseason practices since Aug. 6 but Thursday’s was the first geared to preparing against Rice.
“What we’re doing with those guys in green is we’re doing basically most of the scout work,” Pittman said of the group withheld from full contact by apparently relatively minor injuries and ailments. “The majority of them, we’re doing scout work with them. If we’re going good on good, we’re holding them right now, but I expect for almost every one of them to be out of the green by Monday.”
Pittman was a little less certain about star Preseason All-SEC star receiver Treylon Burks and punter Sam Loy’s Sept. 4 availability.
“They haven’t been at practice,” Pittman said. “I’m not for sure. I feel like they’re both going to be ready for Rice. I feel better about Treylon being ready for Rice than possibly I do Sam. But that would be the only two guys really that there would be some type of concern about.”
Reid Bauer, who last year beat out former Vanderbilt punter Loy and since departed former Michigan punter George Caratan mostly to be last year’s punter, seems likely to punt against Rice.
“I love him,” Pittman said of Bauer, Arkansas’ regular punter as a walk-on in 2018 and then redshirted behind Loy in 2019 before last season’s reemergence. “I had a talk with him at the end of spring ball you know, and he’s going, ‘Well, they said I couldn’t start, I did. Last year we brought a punter in and I beat him out.’ And by golly, he’s done it again you know. So really proud of him. Of course he has to punt well the next few days to keep that job. But he’s our starting punter right now.”
Missing Burks off his team leading 51 catches for 820 yards and seven touchdowns obviously would deprive starting quarterback KJ Jefferson of his best target.
But the Razorbacks do sport considerable receiving depth with seniors De’Vion Warren and Helena native Tyson Morris, via Oklahoma Sooners transfer Jaqualyn Crawford, via Florida State transfer Warren Thompson, returnees John David White and Kendall Catalon, scholarship freshman flashes Ketron Jackson, called the offense’s most improved player by offensive coordinator Kendall Briles, and redshirt freshman walk-on Harper Cole who has caught Pittman’s eye and also drew the coach’s Thursday mention.
All improved with more reps during Burks’ absence.
“You certainly don’t want Treylon Burks not to play – in any game,” Pittman said. “But sometimes if you get a little nicked up and you’re not able to practice, it helps your football team in the long run.”
The Hogs also have two capable receivers in tight ends Kern and Hudson Henry, though both have been in and out of practice with injuries.
Nathan Bax, lettering last year as a redshirt freshman special teamer, is the third tight end
“If we can get Hud back consistently, I feel good about those three,” Pittman said. “Bax, and Hud and of course Kern. That right now, that’s where we’re at. That’s who we have. And then we have some younger guys we’re trying to develop. We’re trying to certainly get Landon Rogers (the freshman from Little Rock Parkview recently moved from quarterback, to tight end) there as fast as we possibly can.”
Since Thursday marked the early start of Rice game week which this week includes a closed to all media Friday practice and Saturday’s closed to media noncontact, dress rehearsal mock game, Pittman was asked to assess the Aug. 6-25 preseason practices.
“I really like the way everybody works,” Pittman said. “We went probably practice maybe 10 through 12 where I was disappointed in our execution on offense. I didn’t think we were urgent enough in our demeanor. We certainly picked that up.”
Thursday’s first game week type practice went well, Pittman said.
“Overall, it was really nice to get to today, which is (like) our Monday practice for Rice,” Pittman said. “Today was such a super practice. It was an hour and 40 minutes like we always do in shells on (game week) Monday. I thought our scout teams were excellent. I thought we ran to the ball. Scott (Fountain, the special teams coordinator) and them had a really good plan for special teams.”
As for Thursday’s offense vs defense, ‘Our defense got the better of the offense,” Pittman said. “Both ones and twos. We just have to get better there on offense.”