FAYETTEVILLE – Any kind of July football drills would be greatly appreciated by Arkansas’ new staff that never had a solitary spring practice with the team it inherited. But, it would be especially appreciated by Razorbacks Coach Sam Pittman and the offense, defense and special teams respectively coordinated by Kendal Briles, Barry Odom and Scott Fountain, having a ball on the field for the walkthroughs that are supposed to accompany the tentatively hoped for July conditioning drills.
The July drills would prep for the scheduled Aug. 5 official yet tentative start to preseason practice leading into Arkansas’ Sept. 5 season-opener against the University of Nevada at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Everything scheduled is tentative, of course, due to health concerns because of the worldwide COVID-19 coronavirus. The virus has killed over 80,000 in the United States and cancelled all intercollegiate athletics and practices since March 12. Under SEC edict, Arkansas and all SEC schools have closed their facilities and weight rooms since mid March through May 31.
With several states, including Arkansas, at least partially lifting restrictions that closed or altered many businesses, Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek, has proposed opening the UA weight rooms to Razorbacks athletes on June 1. Around July 15 Yurachek hopes allowing conditioning workouts for the UA’s fall sports: Football, men’s and women’s cross country, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball. The proposals are subject to approval from the SEC and on progress and reevaluating on progress at curbing the virus whether it’s feasible to start those fall sports competitions on time if at all.
Meanwhile, Pittman and his staff and players live in a virtual world, meeting online. The coaches and those players interviewed via teleconference all say the online sessions have gone as well as they can, teaching terminology and the Xs and Os of systems entirely new to players whose 15 scheduled spring practices were canceled before they ever commenced.
But that can’t replace those practices lost. “You can get an idea in the offseason and all that,” Pittman said. “But until you get them out there and actually see them play, it’s very difficult to know if you’ve got them in the right position to be able to play for you. Making sure they are in the right spots helps us a team is the most important thing.”
Odom of course craves seeing his defense running to the ball instead of just running to their computers.
Briles says the offense can’t show much without the ball. “I don’t know if July from a NCAA standpoint if they are going to allow us to have a ball with players,” Briles said. “I think it’s definitely needed because you just don’t know what you have at all. You can watch guys do athletic movements and lift but football is different than just offseason training.”
Briles hankers to see the quarterback everyone asks about, graduate transfer and former University of Florida starting quarterback Feleipe Franks, throwing a pass live in an Arkansas shirt instead of just on film for the Gators. Franks’ Florida accomplishments include quarterbacking the 2018 Gators to a 10-3 season.
And Franks, Briles said, nicely impacted his new team in winter offseason conditioining drills upon transferring to the UA in January. “He’s checked all the boxes for us and been great,” Briles said. “We just want to see him throw a football. That’s the craziest thing. I’ve been around him since January, and I haven’t seen him throw a football because we haven’t had the opportunity to be able to do that. We’d like to be able to see that. That goes for all the quarterbacks. At this point I haven’t seen any of our quarterbacks throw.” Other than on tape.
Returning Razorbacks quarterbacks KJ Jefferson, Jack Lindsey and John Stephen Jones all started one game each for last season’s 2-10 Razorbacks otherwise quarterbacked by departed grad transfers Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel.
Franks has by far the most starting SEC experience of Arkansas’ quarterbacks, 13 games in 2018 and the first three for Florida in 2019 ending his However for operating Briles’ offense, Franks begins at Ground Zero.
“The toughest thing is not being able to practice the tempo,” Briles said. “That’s the toughest thing when you talk about a new offense, especially him coming from Florida that’s more Pro-Style. It’s different. You’ve got to rep it.”