FAYETTEVILLE – Literally and virtually rank among the English language’s most misapplied words. But now in this coronavirus pandemic era of suspended college football, their definitions intersect. Literally, teams meet virtually now. Campuses are closed and spring practices cancelled, cancelled in Arkansas’ case before they ever began.
So from their homes, new Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks literally meet virtually with their position coaches. Razorbacks senior linebacker Grant Morgan of Greenwood, redshirt freshman safety Jalen Catalon of Mansfield, Texas and sophomore receiver Mike Woods of Magnolia, Texas explained Friday during a University of Arkansas arranged teleconference. “What the linebackers are actually doing, we’re going through Microsoft team,” Morgan said. “It’s an app where you can pull up different documents and pull up different things while you can still see people’s faces. He (defensive coordinator Barry Odom) can look at all of our faces, but we can still be interactive. Then he can pull something up and show us what our four rules and our bottom line are for our defense. We can look at different aspects. So we see his computer screen and his face … It’s like a Zoom on steroids, I guess.”
Odom also sends the defense daily tests, Morgan and Catalon said. “It’s like a 15-question test over like, if this happens, how do we respond as a defense? Morgan said. “How do we respond as a Mike linebacker to this?”
Keeping their football mentally sharp and academics, too, as the spring semester since March 12 moved to all online. “I know as a safety group we’re all doing really well with Coach Odom checking up on us,” Catalon said. “He’s seeing how we’re doing and making sure we’re fresh with everything we’ve learned so far. Making sure we’re on top of our schoolwork and everything.”
Everything includes the physical part, too, especially since they train with nobody looking. Strength coaches Jamil Walker and Ed Ellis transmit workouts but it’s up to the players to do them and find places to do them with so many places closed. “I have a buddy that owns a gym and he gave me the key,” Morgan said. “So we’ve been going every day by myself and doing that stuff. I know our team is in and out doing different types of workouts every single day. As a linebacker group I feel like everyone is really holding each other accountable with workouts.” Apparently if you’ve worked out enough in your hometown somebody will provide a workout home.“I’ve got a friend here with his own personal gym as well,” Catalon said. “So I’m able to go in and work out every single day. I have a trainer back at home, too.”
Is it tough with a new head coach and all but one new assistants literally faced with a virtual start without ever setting foot on a spring practice field before what they hope will be preseason practices able to start in August? “Every team in the country is dealing with this,” Catalon said. “So it’s just who is going to make the best out of it and stay on top of things as far as mentally and physically? So far we’ve handled it really well. I think it would have been good for us to have spring ball. I wanted to get out there for my first spring ball, but that’s life. Who is going to respond when things like that happen?”
Woods said the offense position groups also have stayed in daily communications. He’s transitioning to a new offensive coordinator, Kendal Briles, but his position coach, Justin Stepp, remains after coaching receivers the past two years under former Arkansas Coach Chad Morris. “Every other position group, they had a new coach,” Woods said. “It was great that we didn’t have to go through that whole phase of getting to know someone.”
He did get a little offseason, though obviously no spring practices, getting to know new quarterback Feleipe Franks, the graduate transfer and former Florida Gators starter until breaking his ankle early last season. “He’s got good zip on the ball,” Woods said. “He can throw it deep. He’s accurate. I think he’s going to be real good for us. As far as running the ball, I think he’ll be able to do that.”
Woods also was asked about his offseason workouts with KJ Jefferson, the redshirt freshman quarterback who underwent postseason shoulder surgery. “I think he’s been looking good,” Woods said. “He’s got real zip on the ball. He’s getting that flexibility back.