Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Razorbacks adjusting to new on both sides of ball
Arkansas quarterback KJj Jefferson hands the ball off Thursday, March 9, 2023, to running back Raheim Sanders during practice in the university practice facility in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — KJ Jefferson is an old head at being viewed as the “face of the program” for University of Arkansas football.
The senior from Sardis, Miss., who has the potential to pass a handful of career passing and quarterback rushing records for the Razorbacks this fall, is set to enter his third year as the starter and likely his third as a team captain.
Sophomore linebacker Chris Paul is just entering the realm of big-time leadership on the collegiate level.
The quarterback and linebacker were natural choices on Friday to serve as team spokesman-type players as the first Razorbacks to meet with the media after Day 2 of spring drills.
“I mean just everybody’s just buying in,” Jefferson said. “We’re all learning. It’s a new system, so everybody’s just taking time out to adjust and accept change and everybody’s coming out paying attention and just focusing on little details.”
More from WholeHogSports: Notes, observations from Day 2 of spring
The Razorbacks worked in light “spider” pads on the outside practice fields on a crisp afternoon with temperatures in the mid-50s amid light breezes on Friday.
Paul ascended to a starting job the last two games last season after the Razorbacks reached bowl eligibility and captain Bumper Pool stepped away to undergo hip surgeries.
“I feel like my leadership role is going to take a huge step this year,” Paul said. “I feel like I’m that guy, one of the older guys on the defense. From the two practices that we’ve had, the defense has had a lot of energy, flying around to the ball and things like that.”
New schemes are being implemented on both sides of the ball, but NCAA-allowed walk-throughs and study sessions have made the practices seem smooth with limited mistakes.
Jefferson said the offensive schemes will look a little different as the Razorbacks transition from the successful Kendal Briles run-pass option schemes to Dan Enos’ stylings.
“Our main thing is to look complex but remain simple,” Jefferson said. “So I mean we want to do a lot of different shifts. We want to line up many different ways but we’re still running the same plays. I would just say our main thing is to look complex but remain simple.”
Travis Williams is the Razorbacks’ new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach and he’s implementing new schemes with two other new assistants in the secondary, with co-coordinator Marcus Woodson and Deron Wilson joining returning defensive line coach Deke Adams.
“It’s new for all of us with a new defensive coordinator, so we’re trying to get adjusted to what calls to make to this certain formation, things like that,” Paul said. “But I can say all the linebackers, especially Antonio Grier, have done a great job of picking up on schemes and just listening to what coach has to say.”
In the practice periods open to the media, the Hogs defensive backs made more plays in the open air than they did inside Walker Pavilion on Thursday.
In one-on-one pass drills, cornerback Dwight McGlothern had an interception early in the period by cutting in front of an out route intended for Jaedon Wilson from Jacolby Criswell.
Transfer Lorando Johnson and freshmen Jaylon Braxton and Dylan Hasz were among the defensive backs with nice break-up plays during the drill. Johnson wound up guarding tall wideouts like 6-7 Tyrone Broden and 6-4 Andrew Armstrong with some regularity and hung in well.
The period’s best play came when Isaiah Sategna got deep and hauled in an over-the-shoulder catch from freshman Malachi Singleton for a would-be touchdown.
Jefferson did good work in the period, completing passes to Bryce Stephens, Landon Rogers, Armstrong and Sategna. His deep ball for Isaac TeSlaa fell incomplete.
Armstrong turned an out-cut with tight coverage into a big reception from Cade Fortin when freshman TJ Metcalf made a play for the breakup but fell to the grass, allowing Armstrong to cut up and streak down the sideline.
Three-year starting guard Brady Latham spent a good portion of the day working at left tackle, as Coach Sam Pittman indicated would be part of significant lineup evaluations throughout the spring. Latham’s move to left guard, put Patrick Kutas at left guard, with Beaux Limmer at center, E’Marion Harris at right guard and Andrew Chamblee at right tackle during fastball starts.
Satagena was featured during fastball starts with the top unit, catching a screen pass and also snaring a roll-out pass from Jefferson that went for 10-plus yards.
The Razorbacks hosted a lot of visitors on the sidelines as a prelude to a junior day today. Arkansas will return to the practice fields on Sunday for their third workout of the spring.
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