What Sam Pittman said during his first preseason radio show

By: Matt Jones Matt Jones's Twitter account
Published: Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman (left) speaks with Chuck Barrett during "Sam Pittman Live" on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, at Catfish Hole in Fayetteville.
( Andy Shupe)
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman (left) speaks with Chuck Barrett during "Sam Pittman Live" on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, at Catfish Hole in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Sam Pittman returned to statewide radio Wednesday touting a stronger, deeper team than his inaugural season one year ago.

Speaking during the Season 2 premiere of his weekly radio show at the Catfish Hole restaurant, Pittman said the Razorbacks look like an SEC football team after a full offseason working with strength coach Jamil Walker. Arkansas’ offseason conditioning was interrupted last year due to the covid-19 pandemic that sent players home for nearly four months and canceled spring football. Players went through spring practices this year and spent the summer on campus.

“It’s really the kids who do the work. We do the motivating, we set up the schedules and do that, but they worked hard this summer and you can really tell the difference,” Pittman said. “We look like an SEC football team and have the strength of an SEC team.”

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Pittman said he thinks the improved strength and conditioning helped his team come through preseason practice relatively healthy. There are injuries on the team, but Pittman said the Razorbacks did not suffer any season-ending injuries during the 17 preseason practices that concluded Wednesday.

“I think a lot of that (is) because of our weight room and our preparation,” Pittman said.

Linebacker Bumper Pool, who joined receiver Trey Knox as players interviewed during the show, credited Walker for a productive offseason.

“Every time you go into an offseason you have certain goals,” Pool said. “I think Coach Walker did a great job of getting with us individually. My goal was to get stronger, put on some weight and get faster. When you have someone pushing you every day, it’s hard to fail. When you have your teammates pushing you, you have a great program around you where it makes everyone ultimately get those goals.”

On Thursday, Arkansas will begin preparations for its scheduled Sept. 4 season opener against Rice. The team will practice Thursday and Friday, and will go through a mock game Saturday.

Pittman said the Razorbacks will enter game week with Malik Hornsby as the No. 2 quarterback and John Stephen Jones as the No. 3 quarterback behind starter KJ Jefferson, who has been limited as a runner this preseason.

“He’s such an athlete that he’s going to help us a lot with his feet, but what we’ve done is we’ve tried to focus on him as a pocket passer,” Pittman said.

“We felt like he needed to improve as a passer. Third-down situations weren’t good to us last year, so we’ve worked really hard on it.”

Pittman was complimentary of the team’s receivers. He said there are “nine or 10 guys that can play and we can have some success with.”

Pittman singled out several receivers who had a productive camp, including Tyson Morris, De’Vion Warren, Kendall Catalon, John David White, transfer Jaquayln Crawford of Oklahoma and freshmen Ketron Jackson and Bryce Stephens.

Knox, along with All-SEC selection Treylon Burks, will likely be a third-year starter at receiver.

“There are guys pushing guys to get better, myself included,” Knox said. “I mean Tyson has been pushing me every day to be the best Trey Knox I can be. It goes on and on around the room.”

Pittman said Knox, who struggled last season, has improved.

“What Trey has changed this year…is that he’s decided who he is and what his strengths are and he’s going to use them,” Pittman said. “He’s a big receiver that can block, that can win contested balls and can cut routes and get in front of somebody, and he’s so big they can’t get back in front of him. I think he’s using that.

“A lot of times people try to be somebody they’re not. Just be who you are and that’s damn good enough to have success, and I believe that’s what he’s doing.”

Pittman was also complimentary of running back Dominique Johnson, who briefly moved to tight end before returning to the backfield during the preseason. Pittman said Johnson was “twice as good” when he came back to the running backs room.

“I’m going to move him to wideout tomorrow and move him back to running back,” Pittman said jokingly. “We’ve got about two more moves for him. He might be Herschel Walker or Darren McFadden by the time we’re done with him. But he got a lot better. I don’t know why, but he did. He started running the ball better.”

Pittman said freshman Landon Rogers, who signed with Arkansas as a quarterback, asked to move to tight end during camp, when the Razorbacks struggled to put enough bodies on the field at the position.

“He’s 6-5, 220 (pounds), 215 — somewhere in there — but he can fly and he can catch,” Pittman said. “He’s a great athlete....He’ll get bigger. If he can get 240, everybody in the room believes he can be a guy who can change the game vertically.”

Trelon Smith is the team’s top returning rusher and freshman Raheim “Rocket” Sanders has secured the No. 2 spot behind him. Pittman said coaches haven’t been able to learn much about freshman AJ Green because he has missed practice time, but indicated Green — a 10.3-second 100-meter sprinter in high school — has struggled to get “north-south” in the team’s closed-door scrimmages.

Along the offensive line, Pittman said competition has been fierce at the guard positions between Ty Clary and Beaux Limmer on the right side, and between Brady Latham and Luke Jones on the left side.

Pittman called right tackle Dalton Wagner “more athletic” than last year and said he had a good camp. Center Ricky Stromberg is the “anchor” on the offensive line, Pittman said, and noted the time Stromberg missed in practice with a knee injury helped others.

Pittman credited “combo periods” during practice for developing better depth along the line. Prior to the start of practice, Pittman said he told his coaches to prepare for a “nightmare” scenario in which a group lost its best player.

“Let’s lose him in the combo period,” Pittman said. “He’s not in there. It could be Malik coming in at quarterback, it could be Clary coming in at center, or whatever. Once we get in the game I want (starters) to have already played with those guys so they have confidence in them.”

On the defensive line, Pittman said he feels comfortable with at least eight players who will rotate during games. He said the Razorbacks will also have third-down packages that feature more pass rushers.

One of the pass rushers singled out by Pittman was Dorian Gerald, a former junior college standout who has missed most of the past two seasons with injuries.

“Dorian Gerald right now is playing much better than he ever has,” Pittman said. “He’s 270 pounds and playing good ball.”

Pittman is also high on three defensive line transfers — Markell Utsey and Tre Williams of Missouri, and John Ridgeway of Illinois State.

“We hit on them all,” Pittman said of the three transfers. “Sometimes you don’t, but we did and we’re very fortunate there.”

At linebacker, Pittman said Andrew Parker has stood out in camp. He credited the vocal leadership of his safeties, including Jalen Catalon, Joe Foucha and Simeon Blair.

“There is a lot of leadership in that room,” Pittman said.

Pittman said special teams should be much improved over a year ago when the units committed several mistakes, including some that were costly in a close loss at Auburn.

“I like our punters, I like our kickers, I like our coverage teams, I like our return teams,” Pittman said. “We’re starting to find some returners we like. I think we’re going to be much better there than we were a year ago.”

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