by Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – Like Sam Pittman has from the December day he took over an Arkansas football program 1-23 in the SEC for its last three season, the Razorbacks coach keeps playing the hands dealt to him.
That hand includes the worldwide coronavirus pandemic that shut down all sports in mid-March including his never conducted spring practices. Now the ongoing pandemic at the least delays the scheduled Aug. 7 start of preseason practice to Aug. 17 for what was supposed to be a 12-game season reduced to a 10-games all SEC season starting Sept. 26.
That Aug. 17 Monday begins 20-hour preseason weeks that must include two days off the players.
“You basically have 40 days to get 25 practices in,” Pittman said on a Thursday Zoom press conference. “You’re not going to have near the time, obviously. It is what it is. They give us all the same rules.”
In the meantime his team has done the walkthroughs allowed since late July. “Whatever it is, you want to be able to go play,” Pittman said. “So they were really excited about that. And I was excited for them, and our coaching staff was very excited. The kids just want to play and we just want to coach. Obviously we want do it in the safest environment we possibly can.”
Until Aug. 17 the Razorbacks have 14-hour weeks for weight training, meetings and walkthroughs.
Pittman was asked about graduate transfer Feleipe Franks, the former Florida Gators starting quarterback opening drills as Arkansas’ first-team quarterback challenged by returnees KJ Jefferson, currently No. 2, John Stephen Jones and Jack Lindsey and incoming freshman Malik Hornsby.
“He’s approaching it like a guy who’s been an SEC starter for two-plus years,” Pittman said. “He’s approaching it like he’s been there before. I think that’s very important for us, especially because we didn’t have spring ball. But we have a guy on our football team that’s played a lot of football at quarterback and won a New Year’s Day bowl as the starting quarterback. We have a veteran guy and I think that’s important. I didn’t say that he’s won the starting job. How can do you do that in walk-throughs? But I did say that we’re awful glad that he’s on our football team.”
Franks and Preseason All-SEC senior running back Rakeem Boyd are obvious leaders on offense.
On the offensive line for leadership Pittman cited tackles Myron Cunningham and Dalton Wagner.
In addition to being an incumbent offensive guard, true sophomore Ricky Stromberg, bulked from a 2019 reporting 260 pounds to 300-plus, is also working at center, Pittman said. Defensively, Pittman started with the secondary. “(Jarques) McClellion, (Devin) Bush, Mo Brown, those guys in the secondary have really been as a hard a working group as we have,” Pittman said. “I’m really impressed with them. Newcomer wise, Jerry Jacobs (the graduate transfer via Arkansas State) has been a nice leader. You go at linebacker, (Bumper) Pool has done well.”
On the defensive line Pittman cited old (fifth-year senior tackle Jonathan Marshall) as a strong leader from the get-go and new (junior college transfer defensive end Julius Coates.
“I love him (Coates),” Pittman said when asked. “He’s done really well. Marshall and (Isaiah) Nichols and Kelly and Coates are big guys. They can hold up against the size of the SEC offensive linemen and they can move.”
All that praise he ladled Pittman cautions with the qualifier that the Hogs have yet to don a pad for practice since his arrival.