Hawgs Illustrated

Leading Off

By Scottie Bordelon

The Razorbacks’ fourth-year head coach has his sights set on a productive 15 workouts, and he hopes to learn a great deal about his new roster over the next month. Arkansas began the spring season March 9 and will wrap it up April 15 with a spring game that is set for noon in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Pittman is eager to see how key returning players mesh with an intriguing group of newcomers from the NCAA transfer portal and high school ranks, and where newly hired assistant coaches will make their mark. The Razorbacks are under new leadership on both sides of the ball.

Dan Enos, who served as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator from 2015-17, was brought back by Pittman to guide the offense following Kendal Briles’ departure, and Travis Williams (defensive coordinator) and Marcus Woodson (co-defensive coordinator) are looking to enact change in the post-Barry Odom era.

“Spring is exciting,” Pittman said. “We have so many new faces, both coaches and players, and younger guys that haven’t played as much in the past. It’s opportunity, and it’s exciting.”

Pittman plans for the Razorbacks to tackle to the ground at least three times this spring. They did not do so in 2022.

Physical practices will provide Pittman and his coaching staff a greater understanding of team personnel entering the summer months and who can be counted on for essential roles in the fall. Lapses in physicality last season resulted in a number of low moments for Arkansas during its four losses by a combined nine points.

Pittman pointed to the Razorbacks’ inconsistencies inside the 20 on offense and defense. Setting the tone for improvement in that aspect of the game begins now.

“We have to be better in situational football – we have to be,” he said. “You buy 10 points and you win 11 games. Those are things that we’re going to really strive to work on, and it’s going to be a physical, physical spring now, because we’ve got to find out what back is going to get the fourth-and-1, what type of personnel we need in the game and things of that nature. And on defense, we need to get the bigs on the field so we can stop those situations.

“We’re going to practice a lot of red zone. We need to come away with touchdowns instead of field goals, and we need to stop them for field goals instead of touchdowns on defense. Those are going to be huge for us this spring.

“We’re certainly going to practice them and make a huge emphasis on that, because if you can win 11, you shouldn’t win seven. That’s where we’re at right now.”

Enos has a firm foundation on offense as he begins his second stint with the program. Quarterback KJ Jefferson, who has two seasons as a full-time starter under his belt, is back and among the SEC’s top talents. Also in the fold are a talented bunch of tailbacks, headlined by Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, who rushed for 1,443 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2022.

Along the offensive line, veterans Brady Latham and Beaux Limmer will be looked upon for leadership. On the perimeter, Arkansas has three transfer additions – Andrew Armstrong, Isaac TeSlaa and Tyrone Broden – who will be tasked with trying to replace the production of Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers, who combined for more than 1,600 yards and 11 touchdowns last fall.

“I think Jaedon Wilson is a guy at wide receiver that’s really had an outstanding offseason,” Pittman said. “(Tight end) Tyrus

Washington is coming along. I think those guys (have stood out), and then we have three receivers out of the portal. It remains to be seen how they will lead.

“But if work ethic has something to do with leadership – and we all know it does – then I believe they’ll be fine leaders and guys that the kids will look up to.”

Jefferson, who now has former North Carolina quarterback and Arkansas native Jacolby Criswell in his position group, has already grown under Enos’ guidance, Pittman noted.

“KJ made it easy for me to get Dan,” Pittman said. “(Enos) has been really excited about KJ’s development and his willingness to learn the offense, and his leadership ability. KJ has really grown up. It’s been neat to see over the last four years how he was the backup and now he’s the central part of the team.

“I think Dan is excited about that, as we all are.”

Defensive lineman Taurean Carter was a standout for the Razorbacks last spring and expected to be an interior presence prior to a knee injury in the team’s spring showcase. He missed the 2022 season with an ACL injury, but the Mansfield, Texas, native was recently cleared for practices this spring.

Should he remain healthy this year, Carter figures to provide leadership and production for Williams’ defense. He had 24 tackles, 3 for lost yardage, and one sack in 2021.

“With TC, it’s like going out and getting a guy out of the portal since he wasn’t here and knowing that he can play and knowing that he understands who we are and things of that nature,” Pittman said. “That certainly helps. Taurean is very, very strong, worked extremely hard and got cleared, and we expect him to have a really good spring.

“We will watch him to the fact that we might limit him a little bit in reps early. We’ll have to wait and see.”

In introducing Williams and Woodson, Pittman made it clear that Williams is in charge of the defense. Woodson will assist in leading the unit and oversee the secondary. Deron Wilson, hired to coach defensive backs, will have input in the back end, too.

Dwight McGlothern and Quincey McAdoo, who combined for six of the Razorbacks’ nine interceptions last season, headline the cornerback spots. Baylor transfer Lorando Johnson will battle at the position, too, and Alfahiym Walcott, another former Baylor player, will be a name to watch as a second-team All-Big 12 performer at safety.

“The No. 1 thing we have to do coming out of spring is know who are our five best players, not who our best safety is,” Pittman said. “If our second-team corner is the best safety, he needs to move back. We have to come out with who is the five best players on our football team and where we need to put them. That’s the first thing.

“By the way, you can’t ever have too many good players. But (Woodson) and Wilson came in here and they’ve made a big, strong effort knowing we need some help and knowing we had some good players as well. But I think the biggest thing we have to do is find out the best five we have.”

With the return of Carter and emergence of defensive lineman Cam Ball late last season, Pittman feels confident in Arkansas’ depth up front. Beyond identifying the top defensive backs, finding a player to fill a key spot on the defensive line is one of Pittman’s primary goals.

“Who is that weakside defensive end position?” Pittman asked. “We’ve been looking at several of them. I think Nico Davillier is doing a good job there. Landon Jackson has done a really good job there. And, of course, we recruited John Morgan (a transfer from Pittsburgh) kind of in that role. We’ll see what happens, but I think we have that person or people on our team that can play that spot.

“I think that’s probably the biggest question mark going into spring ball, is who that guy’s going to be. We’re pretty comfortable with the rest of the guys.”