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.
Hogs tackle final practice before Spring Break
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson prepares to pass the ball Thursday, March 16, 2023, as coach Sam Pittman watches during practice inside the Willard and Pat Walker Pavilion in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas wrapped up the five practices prior to spring break with a lively workout featuring segmented live tackling on Thursday.
The Razorbacks worked inside Walker Pavilion on a dreary, rainy overcast day, the full-pad working running concurrently with the men’s basketball team’s win over Illinois in the NCAA Tournament.
The defense and offense traded big plays in the first clash between new coordinators Dan Enos and Travis Williams.
The day’s highlight play went to running back AJ Green, who took a handoff from Malachi Singleton over the left side, broke through traffic at the line of scrimmage and raced down the left sideline for a 62-yard touchdown. The scoring play came against the third-team defense as Green worked with the starters, second teamers and third teamers.
Green wasn’t the only running back to unleash a long-distance run. Rashod Dubinion had a 24-yard run with the second unit. Starting tailback Raheim Sanders had an 18-yard run among his handful of touches and added a couple of more decent gainers along with more screen and swing passes than in a standard spring scrimmage.
Each unit had two different segments of six plays with live action, making for a total of 36 snaps with tackling.
Transfer receiver Tyrone Broden appeared to be the only Razorback to sustain an injury during the workout, but it came during pass skeleton with no live tackling. KJ Jefferson threw deep into the end zone on the play and Broden and fellow transfer wideout Andrew Armstrong both went down during the collision with a couple of defensive backs.
Both Armstrong and Broden limped off the field, with the 6-7 Broden receiving help from trainers. He did not return to the practice with an injury to his leg, but Armstrong did. The 6-4, 201-pounder, who had a standout week, added a couple of more catches, a 4-yard touchdown from Jefferson in the back of the end zone from 4 yards out during low red-zone work, and a 19-yard gain down the sideline on which he juked one defender to pick up extra yardage.
Jefferson completed 9 of 16 passes during the live scrimmage and pass skeleton.
On the final play as the media viewing window ended, Jefferson connected with transfer Isaac TeSlaa on a medium-depth out route. TeSlaa made a defender miss and sprinted to the end zone with a 19-yard touchdown.
The defense made big plays as well, including a pair of would-be sacks that were not whistled by end Nico Davillier and linebacker Carson Dean.
Safety Jayden Johnson stood out with a pair of pass breakups and his physical play. Freshman cornerback Jaylon Braxton added a couple of pass breakups.
Linebacker Jordan Crook turned in the day’s most impactful hit. One play after Coach Sam Pittman stopped the proceedings to deliver a message to Crook, the 6-foot sophomore bored into Kalil Girault, just as a pass from Jacolby Criswell was arriving.
Girault had his hands on the ball but Crook’s huge hit knocked the pass away as Crook drove the receiver into the artificial turf.
Defensive end Zach Williams recorded a quarterback pressure that led to a throwaway by Criswell.
Redshirt freshman defensive back Landon Phipps made a diving interception on a Criswell pass in the end zone that tipped off the hands of TeSlaa during low red-zone work.
The Razorbacks looked fairly in sync for a first scrimmage, though they committed a pair of false start penalties and had one holding call and one defensive infraction. There was also one broken play with Singleton and Dubinion not on the same page for a mesh handoff in the backfield.
Returning receivers also pitched in, with Isaiah Sategna and Bryce Stephens having receptions of 15 and 14 yards, respectively. Chris Harris had a 28-yard reception from Singleton to pick up a second-and-20 conversion after a holding penalty.
In red-zone work, Armstrong, Marlon Crockett, Sategna, TeSlaa, tight end Luke Hasz, the tailback Green and Girault all had scoring receptions.
The Razorbacks will be off through spring break before reporting again on March 27 prior to practice No. 6 the following day.
Arkansas is scheduled to hold its spring showcase game on April 15 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, the day the NCAA transfer portal opens back up for 15 days.
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.