FAYETTEVILLE – During Wednesday’s press conference advancing Saturday’s 2 p.m. spring football practice ending Red-White game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman was asked about Razorbacks whose spring practices most pleasantly surprised.
He named several starting with Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, the January enrolled true freshman recruited as a receiver but moved to help the depth depleted running back spot.
“Rocket Sanders is a nice addition for us and done a nice job,” Pittman said when asked about the spring push to improve the running games physicality. “Our line is much bigger, understands our offense much better. So we have made some physical strides on the offensive line and in the running game. A lot of that has to do with the wide receivers blocking as well.”
Individually he delved more into defense.
“Taurean Carter’s had a really good spring,” Pittman said of the third-year sophomore defensive tackle. “Along with (this-year defensive end) Zach Williams, who is at 265 now. The D-line has surprised me. They’re playing better ball than possibly what I might think. Young guy (true freshman linebacker) Pooh Paul has come in and learned the defense and done a really nice job. (True freshman) Jayden Johnson there at safety has surprised me with his ability to learn the defense and get where he’s supposed to be with the physicality that he’s playing. Really those are the guys who come off of my head just quickly when you ask that question. Well, (junior safety) Simeon Blair, we knew he was a player, but he’s played really well.”
He hasn’t named quarterbacks KJ Jefferson, the third-year sophomore and Malik Hornsby, the second-year freshman, as surprises trying to succeed turned pro 2020 starting quarterback Feleipe Franks.
“I’ve been hard on the quarterbacks,” Pittman said. “I know that. The expectations are high for them, however, and they’re fine with that.”
Both are true running quarterbacks. And with the caution jerseys and quick whistles preventing the spring defenses from hitting the quarterbacks, quarterbacks don’t truly run in the spring.
“I don’t know how you really rate a quarterback when you’re in a run-type run-and-throw offense when the quarterback is another running back for you in the spring,” Pittman said. “If you get close to him the ball is down and things of that nature. A lot of times guys break a tackle, break an arm tackle, do some things and it does wonders for their confidence, you know, and they become a little more accurate throwing the ball and all that.”
Pittman was asked about any Hogs being withheld Saturday because of injuries.
“You know, there’s some guys that we’re not quite sure,” Pittman said. “I don’t know if Dalton Wagner is going to be healthy enough to play. He’s starting at right tackle. I don’t know if he’ll be healthy enough. (Transfer offensive tackle) Ty’kieast Crawford is another one there on the O-line that won’t be able to play. (Defensive back) Khari Johnson’s got an ankle that possibly won’t (allow him to play). (Receiver) Tyson Morris won’t be able to play. (Linebacker) Hayden Henry, we’re going to hold him, just like we have in every scrimmage that we’ve had. And then probably up in the air still is (defensive end) Jashaud Stewart and (defensive tackle) Isaiah Nichols. I don’t know that they’ll play. If they do it won’t be any significant amount of reps.”
Gaining 15 pounds to 238, sophomore Stewart of Jonesboro has surprised at defensive end.
“He plays extremely hard,” Pittman said. “ Whatever he’s got in there, that’s what you’re going to get every snap. And I don’t believe you have to be a senior to lead. I think you’ve got to beat somebody out then you become a leader, and that’s what he’s done. He’s moved up the depth chart. It’s unfortunate that I don’t know if we’ll be able to see him Saturday.”
With tackles Wagner and Crawford both out, redshirt freshman Marcus Henderson will start at right offensive tackle with the first offense Saturday.
“I like progression that Henderson and (redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jalen) St. John have made,” Pittman said.
The Razorbacks have one Thursday practice preceding Saturday’s spring game.