FAYETTEVILLE – The head coach is different, yet much for Mike Woods stays the same whenever this menacing coronavirus pandemic might ease so the world returns somewhat to normal including athletics resuming.
Junior Razorbacks receiver Woods signed out of Magnolia, Texas as a 2018 freshman under former Arkansas Coach Chad Morris. Morris was fired with two games left last season of a second consecutive eventual 2-10, 0-8 in the SEC campaign. A new head coach, Sam Pittman, and new offensive coordinator, Kendal Briles, direct Woods now.
But receivers coach Justin Stepp remains, the lone holdover from the Morris staff. And though he never got an official spring practice in it, Woods said Briles’ offensive scheme brings him back to Magnolia, Texas. “It’s like a new system, but for me it’s kind of close to my high school style of offense,” Woods said. “Because Coach Briles, I believe he played under my high school head coach, and a lot of the offense has similarities. My thing, it was kind of like I had to go back to some of the high school setup as far as the offense.”
It’s an easy transition for Woods, but he believes the scheme will be an easy transition for all on offense. “It’s real simple for us all,” Woods said. “It really makes the game less thinking for all of us. It allows us to play a lot faster. So, I think it’s a great system as far as allowing us to play fast.”
Woods kept fast company even as the Hogs struggled under Morris. As a 2018 freshman, Woods broke in off the bench with 18 catches for 206 yards and a touchdown in 10 games. Last season, again under Stepp, Woods stepped up. He started all 12 games and tied tight end Cheyenne O’Grady with a team leading 33 catches while netting 423 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Stepp’s top receivers, Woods, Treylon Burks and Trey Knox, are surpassed only by 1,000-yards running back Rakeem Boyd as returning offensive stars. “We didn’t have to go through that whole phase of getting to know someone and all that kind of stuff,”Woods said. “That part made it a lot easier for us, so I thought that was a great thing for all of us to be able to keep the same coach.”
Just from the winter workouts that led into what was supposed to be the March 29 start of spring practice, Pittman got to know Woods well enough to pick out a leader. “On offense I think Mike Woods is a guy that has done that,” Pittman replied when asked to cite Razorbacks he perceived taking leadership roles.
Woods said he’s trying to lead but admits for him it’s nothing to shout about. “I’ve tried to be more vocal,” Woods said. “But what I do on a day-to-day, I just work hard,” and people I guess just gravitate towards that. I think I just work hard and come in every day with that mindset that we got to get better.” Lord knows after last year’s 2-10 included nonconference home loss embarrassments against San Jose State and Western Kentucky they all need to get better. “We got to change what’s been going on around here for the past year,” Woods said.
One old quarterback brand new and one almost new quarterback barely used appear first in line armed to change things offensively. Feleipe Franks, the 6-6, 235, fourth-year junior graduate transfer via the University of Florida, and redshirt freshman KJ Jefferson bear those arms. Franks, 6-6, 235, was the Gators starting quarterback until breaking his ankle early season. Jefferson, 6-3, 240, stayed one game under the four games redshirt max last year. A shoulder injury requiring surgery prevented him from starting the season finale against Missouri after logging his first start the week before against LSU.
Woods saw enough in winter workouts to be impressed with both. “He (Franks) is a big dude and he can really throw the ball,” Woods said. “As far as being a leader, I think he came in and did a good job. Guys respect him. He’s loud, he’s going to let guys know what’s up when he needs to let them know. I think he’ll be real good for us and I’m excited.”
What about Jefferson? “He’s got real zip on the ball,” Woods said. “I think he’s been looking real good coming off his shoulder injury. He’s getting that flexibility back. We know he’s a big guy that can run the ball and he can throw the ball.”