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.
Razorbacks Football Report:
Secondary leaves prints all over ball
Arkansas safety Jalen Catalon (1) celebrates a tackle during a scrimmage Saturday, April 3, 2021, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas’ secondary came to play Saturday in the Razorbacks’ second scrimmage of the spring.
It was not a banner day for accuracy for Arkansas’ quarterbacks, but the defensive backs played a role in that. On the final snap of the scrimmage, KJ Jefferson’s pass intended for receiver Mike Woods sailed a bit high and off his fingertips.
The Razorbacks’ defensive backfield, each player standing close to one another, let Woods and the offense know about it after the fourth-down play. Second-year Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman was pleased with the play and activity from the secondary.
“They’ve been playing well in practice as well,” Pittman said. “Any time you can do what you do in individual, and you can do it as well or better in a team setting, to me that’s when you become a good player.”
Unofficially, Arkansas defensive backs finished with eight pass breakups. Among the top performers was Simeon Blair, the redshirt junior from Pine Bluff. His day included a pair of pass breakups and an interception of Malik Hornsby after his pass was tipped into the air by receiver Jaedon Wilson. Blair laid out for the ball and earned the takeaway.
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He totaled 23 tackles in 2020, including six in Arkansas’ Week 2 win at Mississippi State and six more at Texas A&M. Blair’s work ethic has jumped out to Pittman since the end of last season, and his efforts are showing on the field.
“He’s got a lot of confidence. He’s always been a guy that will hit you,” Pittman said. “If you look back at him last season, he really came firing out of the gates early and had a great game against Mississippi State and played well early, then he kind of tapered off during the middle then came back a little bit toward the end. We just talked to him about, ‘Hey, I want that guy and a better guy.’
“When we played LSU, I believe it was in the second half when we lost [Jalen] Catalon, we lost a lot of leadership in the secondary. We needed Blair to step up and be one of those guys, and he certainly has. I’ve been really pleased with him. Really physical guy. I love the kid.”
Montaric Brown, a starting cornerback, tallied a pass breakup and made a couple of big hits on pass catchers. The same can be said for Catalon, who briefly left the field to have his shoulder examined by trainers.
Catalon dropped freshman tailback Raheim Sanders behind the line of scrimmage on a designed run near the sideline. Catalon would have notched another big hit on Jefferson in the red zone if quarterbacks were not off limits for contact.
LaDarrius Bishop broke up another pass and Greg Brooks Jr. tallied an early tackle for loss on Sanders as well. Jon Conley, a defensive back from Fayetteville, batted away a Lucas Coley deep ball into the end zone.
Jacorrei Turner, a 6-2, 197-pound redshirt freshman from Atlanta, also had a deflection.
“A lot of guys look good over in individual, this, that and the other, blocking bag, breaking on air, all these type things,” Pittman said. “But what those guys have done, they’ve been able to take what they’re doing in individual each day … and they’re starting to do that in a game setting, in a team setting.
“Any time you can do that, you’ve turned yourself into a fine football player. The secondary is doing that right now.”
Matthew Phillips had the best day among the kickers, converting 4 of 5 field goal tries after a bad snap by John Oehrlein cost him a 38-yard try.
Phillips made kicks from 38, 43, 47 and 46 yards. He missed wide left from 47 yards.
Freshman Cameron Little made 1 of 3 field goals. He missed wide right from 44 yards, then wide right again from 29 yards. Later, he booted a 47-yarder through the uprights during a brief field goal segment.
The punters — Sam Loy, George Caratan and Reid Bauer — had an average day, though Caratan thumped a 50-plus yarder on his last try.
Kickoff man Vito Calvaruso had the best day, with virtually all of his kickoffs reaching the end zone.
“I don’t think we did very good kicking field goals,” Coach Sam Pittman said. “I’ve got to look and see. We hit some good punts and some bad punts. You’ve got to understand we’re punting not just one guy, or kicking one guy, we’re kicking a lot. I thought we kicked the ball off. Our kickoffs were outstanding.
“I do know Phillips kicked one heck of one. It was 46 yards into the wind there on the second to last two-minute drive.”
Sophomore Jashaud Stewart started Saturday’s scrimmage with the first-team defensive front, joining end Eric Gregory and tackle Isaiah Nichols, to cap off a strong week for the 6-2, 240-pounder from Jonesboro.
“I’m proud of Jashaud,” Coach Sam Pittman said. “What he teaches is like in any business: If you work hard and you come to work every day with that lunch pail attitude — that’s what he had in high school, too — that you can move up in your business. You can move up on the football field, whatever it may be.
“We’d still like to see him get another 10 pounds. I think he will. He plays extremely hard and we wanted to reward that as well.”
Shut him up
Jashaud Stewart’s move to the starting unit and Coach Sam Pittman’s challenge seemed to inspire some ends who previously have been in the starting lineup, as well as others.
Junior Zach Williams had a sack Saturday, and senior Dorian Gerald accounted for 2.5 sacks and another tackle for loss.
“You saw Dorian make some plays today, and the reason to me is because he’s playing harder,” Pittman said. “He’s not taking as many plays off as he had in the past.
“I think Eric Thomas is another guy that’s coming on there. You saw Gregory make some plays and [Mataio] Soli made some plays. I called it out last week. I think we’ve got to get better at that position — all positions — but that’s one that’s concerning, and they’re trying to shut the old coach up a little bit, I think.”
The Razorbacks did not appear to suffer any major injuries in the scrimmage, though two players left the workout for good.
Defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols, who has been bothered by an ankle during spring drills, came out during the first half of the scrimmage and had his left ankle looked at. He did not return.
Cornerback Khari Johnson got tangled up with Tyson Morris on a deep ball in the end zone and stayed down a few moments. He jogged off under his own power with a little hobble late in the scrimmage.
Safety Jalen Catalon appeared to have a shoulder issue looked at, and safety Joe Foucha’s left ankle was checked, but both of those starters returned to action.
One of the referees had some fun with receiver Trey Knox during pre-scrimmage warm-ups. Running the left sideline and working against air, Knox got deep and was en route toward catching a long pass when an official called out, “OPI, coming back!”
The OPI reference was to offensive pass interference.
For the second consecutive scrimmage, the Razorbacks did a drill prior to the scrimmage where two offensive players — a blocker and a ball carrier — and two defensive players lie on their backs near the goal line. The goal of the drill is for the running back to hop up and get through the two defenders to score a 5-yard touchdown.
The loudest reactions of the drill came courtesy of receiver Harper Cole, who crashed into an unnamed defender and powered into the end zone, and defensive tackle Andy Boykin who won a rep with a resounding clash. Both plays received whoops and hollers from their teammates.
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