Spring football start like Christmas morning for Pittman

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Friday, March 10, 2023
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman watches Thursday, March 9, 2023, during practice in the university practice facility in Fayetteville.
( Andy Shupe)
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman watches Thursday, March 9, 2023, during practice in the university practice facility in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman brought up an annual winter pastime for kids when evaluating the Arkansas Razorbacks’ first practice of spring drills on Thursday.

“I thought it went really smooth, and it was kind of exciting to go around and see, kind of like Christmas, to go around and seeing what kind of presents you had out there on the football field,” said Pittman, the fourth-year University of Arkansas coach.

The Hogs did get out to a fast start, looking well-oiled for a first outing inside Walker Pavilion on a dreary day outside in Northwest Arkansas.

“We walked through the practice after our staff meeting today,” Pittman said. “I thought it was very well organized. I thought the kids transitioned well.

“We started the practice a little bit slow in our fastball starts, but we picked it up after that. I thought we made a lot of plays out there and had a good, solid two-hour practice.”

Linebacker Mani Powell had one of the day’s more eye-popping moments during an individual period. The Fayetteville High product complete flipped over a sled with a 40-to-50 pound weight anchoring it, then attacked a large rolling dummy.

After the explosive impact, defensive coordinator Travis Williams said to the group, “Need to put some more weight on there.”

A half dozen Hogs worked on stationary bikes and other rehab equipment. Some of them, like running back Dominique Johnson, cornerback LaDarrius Bishop, quarterback Kade Renfro and freshman lineman Luke Brown, were known injuries.

However, joining them were starting cornerback Quincey McAdoo and transfer safety Al Walcott, who had a large brace on his right knee.

Pittman did not clarify either injury but said McAdoo would probably be back after spring break, which will come after the Hogs get five practices in. Bishop and Renfro, coming off knee surgeries, are working in roughly the same time frame. Walcott will be out longer.

“Al, he probably will not be back by this spring,” Pittman said. “I think he’ll be ready to go probably mid-June, early July and be ready for fall camp.”

Sophomore Nico Davillier had a bouncing first day, standing out in drills and during many of his reps in team periods. One of his best came on a snap in which he lined up on the defense’s right edge, blew past the left tackle and blew up a run-pass option mesh sequence just as Rashod Dubinion was taking a handoff from Cade Fortin.

“Man, I really like him,” Pittman said. “I really have in the offseason. I think his mind is, ‘I didn’t get to play much last year and I’m sure going to this year.’ He’s chasing the ball as well as anybody that we have.

“I think we’re trying to get him ready to play … that Jack position, that Buck position. Because he can run so well. Good pass rusher, as well. So right now he’s about as big as we probably want him to get.”

Pittman said he thinks the defensive front is going to be deep enough and talented.

He mentioned the secondary is the most banged-up spot on the team.

“When you take Quincey out and you take Al out and DayDay [Bishop] is not healthy quite yet, but he’s close, and then Jaheim [Singletary] is not here, you’ve got what we think are four guys that can really play.”

The receivers mainly outshined defensive backs during one-on-one drills, with multiple long-ball scores from Bryce Stephens, Anthony Armstrong, Chris Harris, Kamron Bibby, Marlon Crockett and others.

Harris seemingly caught all the balls thrown his way during the one-on-one period.

In team periods, both Raheim Sanders and Dubinion, now wearing No. 7, had breakaway plays that would have gone for long distances or touchdowns.

Pittman said on Tuesday that he would re-evaluate elevating transfers to immediate starting positions, as the staff did with receiver Jadon Haselwood for last year’s spring drills. In that vein, the only transfer working consistently with the ones on Thursday was cornerback Lorando Johnson, who was lined up opposite Dwight McGlothern, a transfer last season who worked his way up from the third unit.

Additionally, newcomer receivers Armstrong, Isaac TeSlaa and Tyrone Broden work some with the starters during the media viewing portion of the practice. Returnees like Jaedon Wilson, Stephens and Sam Mbake worked most often with the top unit.

Additionally, the Hogs also ran some two tight end sets, with Nathan Bax and Ty Washington most frequently with the starters.

Asked about the starters on the offensive front, Pittman broadened his response to the entire team.

“I think this spring we’re going to have a lot of different guys play with the ones and things,” Pittman said. “We’re just trying to find out who our best players are.”

The front line on offense featured, from left to right, tackle Andrew Chamblee, guard Brady Latham, center Beaux Limmer, guard E’Marion Harris and tackle Ty’Kieast Crawford. Devon Manuel, listed at 6-9, 310 pounds, also got some first-team work and he, Harris and Chamblee are players who have slimmed down considerably since arriving on campus. Crawford has also lost weight, as he’s listed at 317 pounds, and the first five averaged 310 pounds, with Harris the lightest at 297.

They were matched against a defensive front, during “fastball starts,” of tackles Eric Gregory and Cam Ball and ends Landon Jackson and Jashaud Stewart.


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