Red- White Advance

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – With Saturday’s 2 p.m. Red-White intrasquad game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium the Arkansas Razorbacks conclude their 15 spring football practices for 2021.

Admission for Saturday’s game is free but to accommodate covid-19 social distancing, tickets must be purchased online through the University of Arkansas’ arkansasrazorbacks.com.

In his second year as Arkansas’ head coach but completing his first spring of practices since covid-19 cancelled 2020 spring sports, Sam Pittman was asked about the format for his first Red-White game.

“The Red team is going to be the (number) one defense and the two offense and the White is going to be the one offense and the two defense and basically we’ll have a running clock,” Pittman said Wednesday. “We won’t go live on special teams but will kick off and punt and do everything -hat’s necessary. We’ll have a running clock until the 2-minute point of the half and at the end of the game. And then the clock will just go until normal. We anticipate somewhere around 50 to 55 plays on both sides of the ball not counting special teams.”,

Pittman estimated a 2-hour session.

Although it always means an injured starter if there’s an injury, Pittman said Saturday’s session features a healthy session of No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense.

“I don’t know how we’re going to continue to get better if we don’t go good on good,” Pittman said. “So we’ll go ones vs. ones.”

Pittman indicated caution about playing any with injuries that could be aggravated playing in Saturday’s game but wants to review all the available that he can forming a preseason depth chart in this last donning of pads until the August preseason.

“ I don’t really know how far this game will go,” Pittman said in the spring evaluations. “Is it 20% of spring ball, do you put that much weight on it? Probably not. We are interested in seeing who plays a little bit better when there’s people in the stands. We’ve tried to do that partially (with fans attendance) with our scrimmages. I think we’ll see some things that we want to see and things that we don’t on Saturday but I don’t know that it’s going to weigh a whole lot more than what a normal padded practice would weigh for us.”

In seeking the starting replacement for turned pro graduate transfer Feleipe Franks, Pittman said he and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles intentionally have been “hard on the quarterbacks.”

“The expectations are high for them and they are fine with that,” Pittman said.

Third-year sophomore KJ Jefferson and second-year freshman Malik Hornsby have run first and second team quarterback this spring.

Jefferson fulfilled expectations subbing for an injured Franks as the starter running for one touchdown and throwing three touchdown passes among completing 18 of 33 for 274 yards in the 50-48 loss at Missouri.

However until recent practices neither Jefferson nor Hornsby have passed with the accuracy that Pittman prefers.

“Over the last four practices I felt like KJ’s accuracy has been much better,” Pittman said. “Part of that is the protection’s been better. Part of that is the routes have been run better. But he’s done a good job.”

And Hornsby?

“Malik is pulling the ball down and running the football when things aren’t there a little bit better instead of sitting in the pocket,” Pittman said. “I think we’ve grown. We’re not where we need to be yet, but I think we’ve grown and I think we’ll have a good quarterback room by the time August rolls around.”

Lucas Coley, the January enrolled scholarship freshman quarterback, senior John Stephen Jones and Kade Renfro, the walk-on transfer via Ole Miss, also will be evaluated.

Like all head coaches supervising intrasquad scrimmages, Pittman frees conflicting interests like a better pass rush from his defensive line and better pass protection and a more physical running game produced by his offensive line.

Defensive coordinator Barry Odom and new defensive line coach Jermial Ashley have invoked more 4-defensive line alignments switched from their most used 3-2-5 scheme to improve the pass rush, and Pittman sees 3-down linemen pass-rush improvement over last year.

“We’ve gotten better,” Pittman said. “We can actually get some rush in the three down line. Certainly we’re playing more four down line than what we did last year. But I think we’re going to be able to get to the quarterback without bringing linebackers. Certainly hope so.”

A productive offseason under strength coach Jamil Walker makes for a better offensive line on the run, Pittman projects.

“Our line is much bigger, understands our offense much better,” Pittman said. “So we have made some physical strides on the offensive line and in the running game. A lot of that has to do with the wide receivers blocking as well.”

Receivers, led by junior Treylon Burks, (51 catches, 820 yards and seven touchdowns), appear the deepest part of the offense and the secondary and linebackers, led by All-SEC safety Jalen Catalon and middle linebacker Grant Morgan, the most heralded parts of the defense.

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