By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas hit the practice fields for the first time on Friday with the heat bearing down on the team.
Quarterback KJ Jefferson is one of the leaders of the team and talked about the first day including the heat.
“We did some really good things starting off, but just being out in the heat, that’s a factor, and just being fatigued and stuff like that,” Jefferson said. “Just being able to come and just gain mental toughness and overcoming the heat and stuff like that, different variables of the game … just being able to overcome adversity that we were put through today. I feel like we came out and had an energetic day. We flew around, had fun and competed.”
The heat is likely to continue to be a factor for the Razorbacks. Friday’s practice started just after 5 p.m., but the opening game of the season is September 3 and has a 2:30 p.m. kickoff. Unless the weather changes dramatically the heat will be a huge factor in that game.
While it was just the first day, Sam Pittman does like what his team has on both sides of the ball up the middle. He went on to explain what he’s talking about. He praised Jefferson, center Ricky Stromberg and others.
“Well, they can talk to both sides of the ball,” Pittman said. “To your point, you have a corner sitting way over here, it’s hard for him to lead the other side of the ball if that makes sense. I don’t know. I just now thought of it that way. I do know this, that you better have a good center, and we have one. You better have a good quarterback. We have one. You better have a good running back. We have several. And then linebacker wise, with Bump (Bumper Pool) coming back, that was huge for us that Bumper came back along with Dalton (Wagner). It’s huge. It’s going to allow us for Pooh (Paul), and (Jordan) Crook and those guys, Mani Powell, those guys, (Kaden) Henley, to keep coming on. But I never really thought of it that way, but it makes a lot of sense.”
Malik Hornsby is splitting time between quarterback and wide receiver. On Friday he hit Jaedon Wilson for a deep touchdown pass that was beautifully thrown. Pittman talked about where Hornsby has improved as a passer.
“Well, Malik, he’s obviously improved his accuracy,” Pittman said. “But he used to throw a 95 mile an hour fastball. I mean, it just knocked the guy down. It was an uncatchable type of pass. He’s really improved his touch, I think. But more than anything, I think he’s improved his confidence. He’s not thinking about where guys are going to be, and he’s throwing the ball faster than when he did before. But his accuracy is really, really improved. I don’t know, he probably got 15-to-20… is what the goal was for today of him playing wide receiver snaps. We know we’re straining him because he got every snap of second team quarterback. However, we can always pull back on him once we feel how much we’re going to play him out there. He’s going to play somewhere, so those numbers at wide receiver will probably increase. They didn’t need to today because it was the first day, but they’ll probably increase.”
A wide receiver who really stood out on Friday is Toledo transfer Matt Landers. The 6-foot-5 Landers started his career at Georgia before playing one year at Toledo. Jefferson is very high on Landers.
“Matt Landers coming in, he’s played ball quite a while now, so he knows what it takes,” Jefferson said. “He knows the work and the small details to get to that next level … Being able to have a skill like him, he can stretch the field vertically with his speed and his ability to track the ball down the field. He also runs crisp routes too. So he can create separation as well.”
Jefferson did have a huge mistake in the two-minute drill. He was picked off by cornerback Hudson Clark. Jefferson talked about the pass.
“I was throwing it to (Jadon) Haselwood on a corner route,” Jefferson said. “He [Hudson] sunk back and made a great defensive play. For me, it’s [about] being able to read the defense and also not to be too greedy in a two-minute situation. Just be disciplined. It was a great play for the defense, great play for Hudson. It’s a learning experience for the offense and for me personally.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields today.