HOGS defense impresses coach
FAYETTEVILLE — Defense stood out during Arkansas' first live scrimmage of the spring last Saturday at Razorback Stadium.
Coach Sam Pittman mentioned numerous members of the defensive line — junior Landon Jackson (6-7, 269; Texarkana; 23 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 3 sacks in 2022), senior Jashaud Stewart (6-2, 249; Jonesboro; 14 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 sacks in 2022), senior Zach Williams (6-4, 256; Little Rock; 34 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks in 2022), sophomore Nico Davillier (6-4, 273; Maumelle; no stats last season), redshirt senior John Morgan III (6-2, 273; 19 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks last season at Pitt); and redshirt senior Trajan Jeffcoat (6-4, 280; 47 career starts at Missouri, including 21 total tackles, 2.5 TFLs and a sack last season).
"Those guys are coming along pretty well there,” Pittman said.
Kicker Cam Little (1 missed field goal Saturday) and punter Max Fletcher (47.5 yards per attempt) led an active day on special teams.
"I feel like special teams were pretty good for the first scrimmage, especially the tackling,” Pittman said.
The offense was another story.
“I don’t think the run game was good,” Pittman said. “There were a lot of zero-yardage gains and a lot of negative yard gains."
Returning backs AJ Green (87-414 rushing, 3 TDs in 2022) and Rocket Sanders (1,443 rushing, 10 TDs; 28-271 receiving, 2 TDs in 2022) made notable plays.
"Rocket certainly made some guys miss and ran over a few guys to make some yards, but for the run game, if we were playing in a game, it would’ve been nonsuccessful for the day," Pittman said.
IN SEARCH OF THE NEXT WR
Nine spring practices have been completed, and the Hogs are searching for replacements to last year's leading receivers Matt Landers (59-702 receiving, 3 TDs) and Jadon Haselwood (47-901, 8 TDs)
Haselwood and Landers have both declared for the NFL Draft.
“There really hasn’t been a wideout that you go — ‘that’s the guy' — yet,” Pittman said. “We do feel comfortable who is out there, but you’re talking about a guy who catches 700 to 1,000 yards and I don’t know if that guy has yet identified himself. I’m not saying he’s not on the team, I just don’t know if we know for sure yet.”
Pittman said there are reasons, other than talent, that have kept the receivers from separating themselves.
“A lot of that is the speed you’re playing at," Pittman said, "and it’s hard to play as fast when you’re still trying to concentrate on where you’re supposed to be and what’s my alignment, what’s my route, what’s my timing, what’s my progressions, and things like that."
Pittman said he saw progress during Tuesday's practice, with the installation of the offense complete.
“I felt like they got a little bit better today (Tuesday) and I think that’s with their install having ceased at this point in time.”
Pittman said there were some flashes of playmaking at Saturday's scrimmage, including a long TD reception from Andrew Armstrong, a transfer from Texas A&M Corpus Christi who caught a team-leading 62 passes for a team-high 1,020 yards 13 TDs last season.
Returning Razorback Sam Mbake (6-3, 203; Kennesaw, Ga.) transitioned from wide receiver to defensive back during the middle of last season but has returned to his original position.
Another receiver who has caught Pittman's eye over the past couple of practices has been Fayetteville High School redshirt freshman Isaiah Sategna (5-11, 178), who has improved his size and physicality.
“I’ve been really pleased with his progression, and I think he’ll be a really good player for us,” Sategna said.
PITTMAN THE MAD SCIENTIST
Pittman, a former offensive line coach, said Tuesday he's been enjoying the experimentation being tested on the offensive line.
“I have no reason to believe that we won’t have a very good offensive line again and we just have to make sure we have the right five out there at the right positions,” Pittman said.
One of his latest experiments has been with sophomore Patrick Kutas (6-5, 303; Memphis) playing at tackle, a position he has not played at in the past.
“We’re just trying to make sure that we have the best possible players out there, not only for the 1s, but for who might be the backup if needed because of injury,” Pittman said. “Obviously we recruited Kutas to play tackle and he hasn’t been able to get out there, but he did a fine job at center during the scrimmage. We’re pretty solid that he could be that backup center but we want to give him an opportunity to win the tackle position as well.”
Pittman talked about experimentations he tinkered with one spring at Georgia.
“I had Andrew Thomas at left tackle and then I figured out he was one of our top five but he was behind Isaiah Wynn, who was a first rounder,” Pittman said. “So I moved him to left guard and he started at left guard in preseason camp, but then I said I needed a right tackle more than I need a left guard right now, so I moved him to right tackle two weeks before the first game. I remember Kirby [Smart] said, 'Pittman, this better work man,' and of course he went out there, went to the national championship game, and was the fourth pick in the (2020 NFL) draft.”
Pittman said experiments like the one he did with Thomas is one of the reasons why he enjoys the opportunity to move his players around so much as it helps find things about his players that he or the players didn’t know about themselves.