FAYETTEVILLE – Sunday begins the University of Arkansas’ 15 spring football practices.
What mandatorily in recent years began spring drills with a no pads practice now allows “spider pads,” Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said.
“So hopefully we can get a little more done in the first two days,” Pittman said.
Among the things are truly establishing deeper teams than his previous two though off the preceding Chad Morris era, 2-10, 2-10 overall and 0-8, 0-8 in the SEC, Pittman’s Hogs improved the program vastly. They went 3-7 that without a critical officiating error would have been 4-6 in an entirely SEC schedule for 2020. Last season they went 4-4 in the SEC and 9-4 overall including an Outback Bowl victory over Penn State.
“We’ve been two-spotting ever since I’ve been here,” Pittman said. “We just don’t feel like we have enough at certain positions, offensive line be one of them and D-line be the other with possibly secondary depending on what front we’re running.”
Other objectives start with the basics.
“We just want to secure the football,” Pittman said. “We want to run on and off the field, we want to play hard and we want to establish what our program is about. That’s hard work, we want to be crisp, get the snaps on offense and throw the ball to the guys that we’re supposed to throw to. On defense we’ll be error free, get some of our package in and go from there.”
It was media remarked during Pittman’s Zoom press conference that the Hogs likely sneaked up on some teams last year but won’t this year coming off 9-4 highlighted by victories over Texas and Penn State and in the SEC over Texas A&M, Mississippi State, LSU and Missouri and playing national runner-up Alabama to the 42-35 wire in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Given one prognosticator is alleged to have picked the Hogs sixth nationally, does he fret they’ll hear too many good things about themselves and lose the underdog chip on their shoulder that’s been their trademark?
That is their trademark “because we are a chip on the shoulder underdog from the head coach down to the last player on the team,” Pittman said.
But it’s not like teams post the season’s second game trouncing Texas took those Hogs for lapdogs.
“I find it hard to think that as the season went on last year that teams that played us were overlooking us,” Pittman said. “We’ve beaten some pretty good teams and got into the top 10 in the country. So I’m pretty sure they figured out we have a pretty decent football team.”
Now anyone thinking they should start this season nationally No. 6?
“I don’t know who put us sixth in the country,” Pittman said. “C’mon! But we’re certainly going to strive to get that way. We have extreme confidence in our football team. We have a lot of kids coming back. Got our quarterback (KJ Jefferson) back. Got our safety (Jalen Catalon healthy following shoulder surgery) back who we played over half a year without. So we should have a good football team.”
A couple of players starting the spring rehabbing from injuries and or surgeries are junior running back Dominique Johnson, the Hogs midseason main man running the ball, and Landon Jackson, the touted defensive end transferred from LSU.
Pittman was asked about linebacker Marco Avant, the Forrest City native and graduate of Jonesboro High who arrived with a foot injury last season and redshirted.
“We’re going to put him out there on Sunday,” Pittman said, “But he’s still been beat up whether it be a foot, back or now hamstring. We’ve just to get him healthy some way and we’ll see if he can stay healthy because his body looks good. He’s smart and he can help us.”
Among the freshmen that Arkansas signed in December, 18 are midterm high school graduates become UA students since January and Razorbacks offseason program participants and starting spring drills Sunday.
“I like the group,” Pittman said. “They are blue-collar, hard-working kids. I’ve really been impressed with those guys.”
Seems finding a go-to receiver becomes an Arkansas spring objective with 2021 junior All-American Treylon Burks turned pro.
“Yeah we’ve got to find one, at least one,” Pittman said, You would like to find more, but we’ve got to find that Burks-type guy.”
Jadon Haselwood, the transfer receiver via lettering two years for the Oklahoma Sooners, seems a candidate.
“Certainly we believe it will be Haselwood,” Pittman said. “He’s basically playing the same position which Burks played. He’s very athletic and can do a lot of things we asked Burks to do. Certainly not trying to compare him to Treylon Burks. It’s not fair to him.”
Pittman also touted Warren Thompson, transferred last season from Florida State, and Ketron Jackson.
“Hopefully we can be better at all the positions and that way can replace some of those yards at the other two positions and replace the yards Burks had for us,” Pittman said. “It’s hard to replace Burks.”