Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
What Sam Pittman said during his second preseason radio show
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman (left) and radio announcer Chuck Barrett are shown during Pittman's radio show Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Sam Pittman’s first fall camp as a head coach ended Wednesday with a 90-minute practice, a quick shower and a trip to the Catfish Hole.
Pittman announced the preseason was over during his second weekly radio show. The Razorbacks will take Thursday off, then begin their preparation for No. 4 Georgia on Friday.
Arkansas incrementally increased its number of weekly practices as the preseason progressed. The Razorbacks began with three practices per week last month and are scheduled to practice five times this week and next.
Pittman said he felt the team needed fewer practices early in the preseason because it wasn’t able to go through spring drills.
“We didn’t have spring ball, so we needed a meeting day between practices,” Pittman said.
“We had 25 opportunities (to practice in the preseason) and a lot of people did it different ways. We needed more meeting time.”
Pittman said he felt the team had its best practice of the preseason Tuesday. That was followed by a productive meeting Wednesday before practice.
“We talked to them about: If we have our fans come to the game and they leave, what do you want them to say about us?” Pittman said. “It would be execution, it would physical, how hard we play, how disciplined we are — I didn’t say it, (the players) did.
“We’re trying to breed confidence in our team, but the fundamental, sound values in your program are what get us to be able to compete with Georgia; that’s running to the ball, tackling, blocking, physicalness, discipline. All those things we have to have and we’re practicing that way.
“We don’t take reps at practice. These are game situations to us….Every play has to be like it’s going to be in the football game.”
The Razorbacks voted for team captains this week. Quarterback Feleipe Franks, running back Rakeem Boyd, defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall and linebacker Grant Morgan were announced as the top vote getters Wednesday morning.
“I think it’s as high an honor as you can get by your teammates voting you a captain,” Pittman said.
“I thought the kids had a wonderful choice of the four guys they chose, however there are a lot more than that who have shown leadership skills who I’ve been awful proud of as well.”
Pittman said captains shouldn’t necessarily be the most talented players on the team — although sometimes they are — but the ones who exhibit the characteristics the team is “about.” At Arkansas, Pittman said those traits are toughness, loyalty, physicality, discipline, going to class and assisting one another.
Pittman said Franks and Morgan are the more vocal of the team captains, while Marshall and Boyd are more likely to let their play talk for them.
Of Marshall, Pittman said: “I asked him if he wanted to talk to the team and he said, ‘Coach, you know I don’t talk,’ and I said, ‘OK, man.’”
All four captains are seniors, which Pittman said is beneficial.
“It’s hard to beat experience,” he said. “If you look at the captains, Feleipe has been to a New Year’s Day bowl and Rakeem was at a junior college. Grant was a walk-on and John is a college graduate.
“That’s the beauty of football and team sports. There are so many kids from so many different places.”
Pittman and his former boss, Georgia coach Kirby Smart, haven’t revealed too much through the media leading up to their Sept. 26 opener. Asked earlier this week if he had concerns about his team, Smart said: “I’ve got all kinds of concerns, but I’m not going to put them on a platter for (Pittman).”
On Wednesday, Pittman didn’t take the bait when host Chuck Barrett asked if he had decided on a starting five along the offensive line.
“What am I supposed to say?” Pittman said with a laugh.
“We feel like we know who can play for us. We’ve had a few injuries and things of that nature that have affected how we want to play our line, but we look at all that as a positive because we found more players.
“So, yes, we know exactly where we want to play them, and whoever happens to be there, we know what that lineup looks like. We just need to have a little more consistency.”
Pittman said he loves the play of presumed-starting center Ricky Stromberg. Pittman compared Stromberg — who was not well recruited and came to college at 266 pounds — to one of his prized recruits while an Arkansas assistant coach from 2013-15.
“Frank Ragnow, when we recruited him out of high school he was a 270-pound kid,” Pittman said. “I went to Minnesota to see if he could be big enough to play in the SEC. I got there and obviously you can’t talk to him, but you can walk down the hall and you can look at him. I did and I can remember calling back and saying I want to offer him. Let’s get an offer out to him because he was so broad shouldered.
“Ricky is the same way. He has the frame and he’s carrying 300-plus (pounds) now. We probably wouldn’t have taken Ricky at Georgia because we could get the kid that’s 320 to 340 pounds right now.
“Arkansas, when they got Ricky, it may have been, 'We don’t want him big,' or, 'We know he can get big enough.' I’m sure glad the previous staff took him because he’s an outstanding player.”
On the defensive side, Pittman said linebacker Hayden Henry has had a good week and found a home at outside linebacker.
“We had moved him inside,” Pittman said. “There’s a lot of difference in playing inside the box and outside the box. Inside the box, stuff can come at you from both sides. Outside…you can see everything.
“We found that Henry is more comfortable outside when he can see things inside of him. He’s done a really nice job with that. It took us a little while to figure that out. Had we had spring ball we might have figured that out a long time ago, but at least we have figured that out.”
Like last week, Pittman said there hasn’t been enough separation between linebackers to say definitively who will start. He said regardless of who starts, there will be a rotation that is likely to include Henry, Morgan, Bumper Pool, Andrew Parker, Deon Edwards and Levi Draper.
As he begins to prepare for Georgia, Pittman said he kicks himself for recruiting so many blue chippers on the offensive line. The Bulldogs return one of college football’s best centers in Trey Hill and signed two of the top three linemen in the 2020 class, neither of whom are projected to start against the Razorbacks.
“I talked to Kirby about it and he mentioned the same thing when we went to play Alabama in the national championship (in 2017)," Pittman said. “It was two years after he left Alabama and he’d recruited a lot of good players there.
“(Georgia) is as good a football team as there is in the country. They fly to the ball on defense and are big. Dan Lanning is as good a defensive coordinator as there is in the country and they’ve got a lot of guys returning on defense.
“They’re just a really well-coached, physical, disciplined football team….They’re certainly deserving of that ranking. They’re as good as any team we’ll face all year.”
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