Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
What Sam Pittman said on his Friday teleconference
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman speaks Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, during a press conference to discuss the early signing period at the Fred W. Smith Football Center on the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman
• We were really excited to get out and see our kids perform and let them get to know the coaches better, and vice versa. We’re trying to figure out how we can work hard via Zoom and reach out to our kids and “put a stampede on” as far as recruiting. This is not what we thought we’d be doing at this point in time.
• On spending time at the office and at home: I spend every day in the office. Today was the first day we did not come in as a full staff. We usually meet at 7:30 a.m., but not today. We’re going to take this spring break as a spring break. We’re kind of doing a test run this week to see if we can do everything out of the office as efficient as we could in the office.
• Been able to track every player down? As of yesterday, 21 kids were here. Kids who were in the dorm are not here, and some are working with rehab. We’ve been tracking where each of our kids are. I’d say 80 percent or higher are at home.
• On spring football: We haven’t really gotten into assumptions of when we’ll get started. We’ve concentrated on recruiting of 2022 kids and making sure we’re talking to our kids on a daily basis. I’m sure there’s going to be an acclimatization period. They’re telling us they are working out every day, and want to ensure they’re not losing the gains they’ve made.
• Who has made the biggest jumps this offseason? I can tell you the secondary as a whole, I’ve been really pleased with them. Jalen Catalon, Devin Bush and Jarques McClellion have been great. We’re pleased with the depth there. Myles Slusher has come in and done well, as has Simeon Blair. He works crazy hard. The offensive line group works really hard. The guys in that group that have stood out are Shane Clenin and Ricky Stromberg, who has gained 25-28 pounds. He’s right around 300 pounds. Myron Cunningham is right around that 300-pound mark. Feleipe Franks is about 90-95 percent and has looked good. KJ Jefferson is the same way.
At receiver, Mike Woods works his tail off, and Treylon Burks can really run. He has great hips. Blake Kern has worked his tail off, too. Trelon Smith has stood out. Linebackers, they’re a little beat up with Hayden Henry and Bumper Pool being injured, but Grant Morgan and Deon Edwards have gained weight and are moving well. Defensive line, No. 1 is Jonathan Marshall. Dorian Gerald and Mataio Soli are doing well. We’re trying to add weight to Soli. Zach Zimos has had some weight gains, about 10-12 pounds. I think he can do some things, because he can really run. Andrew Parker has had a good offseason as well.
Since the last time we talked, we feel like we know quite a bit more about our guys than we did before.
• On recruiting, and the staff's “stampede”: If it is a state of Arkansas kid, it has to go through the position coach, the coordinator then through me, then I will send the offer out. If he is out of state, it goes through the position coach then coordinator and he’ll send out the offer. I basically rank the board that is behind me. I have to be in on all the offers. We want to be ahead of people.
• More on spring football: I have talked to Hunter Yurachek about alternatives. You’re not wasting time because it is so fluid, but you have to have several different dates in mind. It went from when can we have our 15 practices to, 'When could we have 10 or so?' Conditioning before we get to practice and all of that has been talked about. I do know this, that everybody will be in the same boat. The difference is we’ll be getting to know our talent level, where most other schools already know what they have. We’re going to look at it as a positive. We’ll go out and try to have the best practices in the country.
• Coaches need to be on the field: I’m not concerned with Kendal Briles and Barry Odom implementing their schemes. There are some concerns there, but you can’t do anything about it. I just don’t think you can install as fast as you possibly could in August without having spring ball. We might not have the normal amount of offense in going into the Nevada game, but enough to have success.
• On the quarterbacks, who are coming off of injuries: It’s not going to hurt them, but we felt like if we were practicing Monday of this week, Franks and KJ would have practiced. We have quite a few ailing injuries to players who may not have been able to go right now.
• On running back Trelon Smith: He really works now. We don’t know if he can hold on to the ball or not, but we figure he can. But I’ve grown fond of the way he works.
• How will the OL keep their weight gains? We’re hoping they have access to work out, and we’re staying in touch with them every day. Priority No. 1 is academics so we can have everyone ready to go. There’s concern about their weight, because we have nutrition staff and meals for them here. There’s also concern about guys gaining too much and coming back out of shape, but there’s not much we can really do about it. We can FaceTime them and tell them about it, but they have to want to be as good as we want them to be.
• On OL Noah Gatlin: His surgery was a success, and he’s done a lot with the team - all the running and lifting. He’s had alternative workouts. He’s done a nice job and is a tough kid. I think he’ll be ready to go by the time fall camp starts.
• On Rakeem Boyd: He won’t get much special treatment in terms of contact. If we were going to scrimmage, we would limit some of his carries, but that would be the same way with all of our running backs. We would have a number of carries we want them to get in a scrimmage. There wouldn’t be a limit on him other than that.
• A leader or two on offense and defense: Mike Woods is a guy who has done that. You have several on the offensive line, but right off the top is Stromberg, Clenin and Cunningham. Feleipe Franks has done a good job along with KJ Jefferson. Franks is a leader there. On defense, Catalon has done a really good job along with Myles Mason. At linebacker it’s been Grant Morgan. Julius Coates has stood out athletically. He can really run now.
• High school camps in the summer: They’re up in the air. We obviously have dates for them, but who knows what is going on. We’re in contact with the high school kids. Basically it’s, ‘Hey, when all this breaks up, come see us.’ They get it. It was valuable to get those kids on campus before this happened, and we offered several on the Junior Days we had. I thought they went really well. I don’t exactly know what is going to go on. It’s been different.
• On Brad Davis and why he brought him on: I trust him, and I know he is a great person. He’s as good of an OL coach as there is in the country. If you go by jobs he’s been offered, he’s as good as anyone. He’s been offered some since he’s been here. Good OL coaches are good communicators and recruiters, and good recruiters are usually good coaches because they have more talent than other coaches. This means a lot to him. He is a people-pleaser. He wants these kids to be as good as they possibly can be. It is in the makeup of who he is.
• Running backs coach Jimmy Smith: I’ve known him for five years. He’s exactly what we needed at running back coach. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy, but he can relate to his players. I needed someone who can recruit Georgia, and he was the first guy who came to mind. I’ve been as pleased as possible with the way he’s handled his room. He was AD at his high school, so he knows how to handle people. His future is bright, bright, bright. I wanted to hire him at UGA. He was outstanding in that interview when I was there. I’ve known what he’s about for five years. I’m thrilled we were able to hire him here.
• On Dorian Gerald: He is cleared. He is getting in much better shape. I’ve had one-on-one conversations with him about what we need him to do. He can be a strong leader and kids look up to him. I think he’s smart and a good guy to have in that D-line room. He’s a guy who can be a heck of a leader for us as well.
• How are you handling all of this? I’ll be honest, about the time we started talking about the virus is whenever the public became educated on it as well. Now it has gone to the point where everyone understands that we need to keep some distance. I don’t go out as much as I did simply because of that - not because of the people, but because of the virus. I enjoy being around people. I’m trying to be smart about it as well.
• On spring break, and if he's told guys to not go anywhere: We felt like we needed to get our players out of the dorms if we could because we didn’t know if they’d close them down. We only had one kid who was going to stay there, and he has since left and gone to Texas. We told them to go to the safest place they could get to. We advised them to be safe. We didn’t tell them to go home, but if they feel safest there, do that.
• Injury updates: Bumper Pool had back surgery, and he is progressing well. I know he’ll be ready by the time season starts. Hayden Henry had a shoulder, and he’s progressing well. Wagner had a shoulder injury and he’s doing well. He has done modified weights and all the running. He’ll be ready by the fall. Ty Clary had a shoulder injury, but he’s doing fine and doing walkthrough reps. The shoulder injuries were labrums. We don’t see anybody on our team that won’t be ready by at least Aug. 1.
• Young receivers and how they’re developing: I think the first thing about them is their coach is back, so their transition is probably a little bit easier. Briles is a personable guy and he knows how important this bunch is to us. They’ve worked hard. I like De’Vion Warren, too, Tyson Morris and Koilan Jackson. Knox, Burks, Woods, Warren, Morris and Jackson are probably our top six guys. They work hard and they have a lot of pride in that room, and they’ve got a lot of pub and a lot to live up to. They know it.
• On adjusting to the dead period: Wooo. All we know how to do is go to work. We have a plan every day, and a lot of it is recruiting and staying in touch with players. We have a lot of work we know we can do, we just can’t see the kids in person. We’re trying to keep routine things like meetings. The difference is there’s no ball right now. You can’t talk video stuff with them. It’s more playbook and handouts right now.
• Dead period as far as recruiting: We vamped it up. We have more time, so you can either sit around and not do anything or you can recruit. There’s a lot of ways to get out of where we are right now, and No. 1 is recruit. I felt like we were behind in 2022 and were caught up in 2021. We made a big push for 2022 kids. I don’t know how many we offered, but it was quite a few. We went in on a note writing and FaceTiming campaign, so we were hitting at least 10 kids per day. We were writing at least 10 kids per day as a full staff, and we will do it every day until we get back. They have to call us, but we’re trying to vamp that up as well as our note writing.
• On grad transfers and how important that group is: They’re all on course. Feleipe is here, Jerry Jacobs is here, Xavier Kelly is on course to graduate, as is Levi Draper. We felt like we got some really good kids and players in that group. They are in our conversations as well, and we need to make sure they get here. We don’t have any doubt they’ll be part of our program in the fall.
• On Blayne Toll flipping to tight end: The bottom line is we basically said if we get Xavier Kelly we were going to move Blayne to tight end and see if he couldn’t help us. We felt like we needed to move him if we were going to move him so he didn’t get behind on installs. He looks like a tight end, and he can really run, so we’re really fortunate to have him there and on our team.
• On retaining receivers coach Justin Stepp: In all honesty we were going to visit with each coach on the last staff. Stepp volunteered to go on the road with me, which stood out to me. I saw how coaches looked at him and how kids he recruited looked at him. Some coaches stopped me and talked to me about him personally. I don't think he set that up. I think they felt adamant that he was a good man and good coach. I saw what he recruited in the room before I got here, and he has strong ties in east Texas, and we need that. We needed to offer him the job he had back to him, and he was very grateful. He was so good in the 3-4 days I was with him before I offered him the job that I felt like he was my guy.
• Do you have any spring break plans? We are going to the Bahamas at my address in Fayetteville, Ark. I think I’m going to heat the pool up, to be honest with you. There might be a whale sighting out there. It’s just me, so don’t shoot. We are not planning to leave town.
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