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.
Pittman, Hogs motoring along this spring
Arkansas receiver Tyrone Broden lines up for a drill Thursday, March 9, 2023, during practice in the university practice facility in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for the photo gallery.
FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks resume spring football practices today with workout No. 4 of the period on their way to 15 practices, culminating with the annual spring showcase on April 15.
Arkansas will be in shoulder pads for the third consecutive workout before donning full pads on Thursday.
Fourth-year coach Sam Pittman was pleased with the progress he saw from the Razorbacks from the season-ending 55-53 triple overtime Liberty Bowl win over Kansas last Dec. 29 to the start of spring drills.
“I think our kids are really responding to our strength staff and our coaches, and that’s how I think you can get a lot better fast,” Pittman said last Tuesday. “They’re taking coaching and I thought today was really nice. I really enjoyed it.”
Team leaders KJ Jefferson and Chris Paul talked on Thursday about players committing to the changes, including with coordinators Dan Enos and Travis Williams and a new strength and conditioning staff headed by Ben Sowders, who became a first-time dad last week.
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“I feel like everybody’s doing real good,” Jefferson said. “I feel like we’re in a really good spot and off to a great start.”
Added Paul, “From the first two practices that we’ve had, the defense has had a lot of energy, flying around to the ball and things like that.” Coach Williams has done a great job of establishing those rules and things like that, and I feel extra confident in my defense.”
One of the biggest themes of the spring is the vast number of newcomers after the Razorbacks lost up to 27 scholarship players to the transfer portal.
Pittman could not recall so many new scholarship players and walk-ons joining a program where he has coached for spring drills.
“New players, I think it ended up being 22-23 new guys,” Pittman said. “And it was the first time for some of our kids who earned the right to walk on from the walk-on tryouts as well.”
As was the case last year, Arkansas will be incorporating plenty of new wide receiver talent into the offense. Transfers Andrew Armstrong, Tyrone Broden and Isaac TeSlaa, all tall targets at 6-4, 6-7 and 6-4, respectively, are meshing into a unit where returning talent Bryce Stephens, Jaedon Wilson, Sam Mbake, Isaiah Sategna and Landon Rogers are pushing for more playing time after the departure of leading wideouts Matt Landers, Jaden Haselwood and Ketron Jackson, and tight end Trey Knox.
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“The thing about Broden, off of his tape I didn’t know — I knew he was tall and could catch — I didn’t know how fast he was,” Pittman said. “He can run now. He can go.
“TeSlaa seems to catch everything around him. Runs really good routes. Had a really good coach where he came from, and Armstrong. We’re just really pleased that we have all three of those guys to go along with the guys that we have on the team.”
Jefferson said the new group of wideouts are showing a big care factor.
“Those guys came in always willing to get extra work, to try to perfect their craft in any way they can, whether that’s in the meeting room, on the field catching balls, running routes, contested catches, anything,” Jefferson said. “Those guys are always trying to perfect their craft. Just bringing in work ethic here and just all the other guys being able to just feed off the energy and that work ethic just grows that talent in that room and the competition level.”
The Razorbacks will wrap up their first two weeks of spring with Thursday’s practice, then resume on March 28 after spring break.
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