FAYETTEVILLE – Sam Pittman doesn’t mince words regarding the Razorbacks two position groups needing the most immediate overall improvement. Linebackers and tight ends, the Arkansas coach cited after Tuesday’s practice in full pads following Monday’s practice in shoulder pads off last Friday’s full-scale scrimmage.
Pittman of the linebackers immediate post Friday’s scrimmage said, “We haven’t really had a guy going, ‘This is my job, and I’m going to take it from you. That position right there is still a wide-open position of who’s going to be our starters there.” He presumed then he would see some things crystalizing among the linebackers after reviewing the scrimmage video.
On Tuesday, though, Pittman said, “Well, I think that’s a position, one of the positions that we have to become a more physical group. We have to go make plays. That’s what linebackers are supposed to do. We can’t run into an offensive lineman and not shed him and make a play. That’s something that we did not do Friday and we’re certainly working on it.”
Pittman explained the plans implemented by defensive coordinator Barry Odom and linebackers coach Rion Rhoads. “You can’t just say, ‘OK, well we’re going to go out there and do the same thing and get better,” Pittman said. “You can’t bench everybody and be mad at everybody. You have to make specific drills for those guys to get better. We had some live drills today with the tight ends and the linebackers. So we have to become a more physical team and they do too. That group (linebackers) they’re willing and they’re physical. We’ve just got to get them to shed blocks and make tackles.”
Pittman said the tight ends physically need to block better as a group than they’ve blocked thus far. “I think they know I think they have to become better blockers,” Pittman said. “Again, you can’t just sit here and talk about, ‘Well, guys have to better.’ You have to give them opportunities to get better, and you give them opportunities in individual to get better. We’ve made a big emphasis on them and the linebackers. We put them together today, and the bottom line is it’s just the strain of the finish. It’s the want to of wanting to whip another man’s tail. We’re getting closer with that tight end group.”
Individually, cornerback Montaric “Busta” Brown and defensive ends Dorian Gerald and junior college transfer Julius Coates have drawn Pittman praise most every scrimmage, but it was the offensive line and the offense’s endurance over the defense in last Friday’s hot 90-degrees plus scrimmage on the grass practice field drawing Pittman’s Tuesday’s plaudits. “I thought our defense fatigued faster than our offense,” Pittman said. “And therefore they got outplayed. They had not been that way necessarily in the practices. So I anticipate that being amped up quite a little bit on Friday for our next scrimmage.”
The offense line, returning line coach Brad Davis Monday after last week’s medically caused absence, drew Pittman’s praise for last Friday’s scrimmage but apparently was bested by the defense Tuesday. “We protected very, very well (last Friday) on the offensive line,” Pittman said. “The last two days I’d say we’ve run the ball pretty well, but we have not protected the quarterback. That’s concerning to me. It’s concerning to Coach Davis, and it’s concerning to the O-line. But I think we’re progressing pretty well.”
Pittman likes his tackles which include Myron Cunningham, Dalton Wagner, Noah Gatlin and precocious true freshman Marcus Henderson. Ricky Stromberg, a starting guard as a true freshman last year, seems to have claimed starting center. The guard spots are highly contested and include Ty Clary, the starting center in 2018 and 2019. “I think Clary brings a lot of experience to the O-line and we are looking at him as a possibility as a guard along with Luke Jones as a guard as well as a center,” Pittman said. “And Clenin as a guard as well as a center.”
Safety Jalen Catalon, requiring minor arthroscopic knee surgery after preseason drills began, is back in full pads practice and will scrimmage Friday, Pittman said. “Catalon is doing a real good job back there,” Pittman said.
Razorbacks 2019 Outdoor track sprinter All-American Josh Ogelsby’s speedy transition to being a complement to main running backs Rakeem Boyd and Trelon Smith hit an injury hurdle even as he impressed last Friday. “He got dinged up in the scrimmage, so, I don’t know how long he’s going to be out,” Pittman said. “But before his injury, he was a great addition and is a great addition to the team. He’s very tough, obviously very fast.”
Arkansas redshirt freshman receiver Shamar Nash of Memphis announced Tuesday he is taking the SEC scholarship retaining option to opt out of playing football in 2020 because of coronavirus concerns. On Twitter, Nash posted, “COVID has been very relevant in my life since May of this year and with the recent passing of my grandmother due to COVID, my family and I felt there wasn’t any reward worth the risk of continuing to participate in football this fall. I wish my team and the entire Razorback nation the best of luck this fall.”
Nash, on the Razorbacks scout team as a 2019 freshman, becomes at least the second Razorback known to accept the opt out option. Senior squadman offensive lineman Chibueze Nwanna opted out of playing in 2020 shortly after preseason practice began.