FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ first scrimmage of the preseason is in the books and Sam Pittman was generally pleased with how it went.
Pittman met with the media after the closed scrimmage and talked about what he saw.
“We had a really good scrimmage,” Pittman said. “I’m going to guess somewhere around 105-115 plays. Some things that were good… (Dominique Johnson) coming back. Dom had a nice, long run. Maybe 50 yards or so. Him coming back was nice to see. We tackled live everything. Special teams, everything. I thought our D-line really played well. I don’t know that we got a first down the first two series with the ones versus twos and twos versus ones. Offense won most all, not all, but most all of the situational football whether it be 2nd-and-10, play third or 3rd-and-6, play fourth. Red area. Low red area. Offense came back and looked really good in that time.”
As expected Pittman did have a few things he was unhappy about including the number of flags on the field.
“Obviously, a concerning part of the scrimmage is penalties,” Pittman said. “This is the first time we’ve had an SEC crew out there. There’s some pass interference and things like that are going to happen at times. But the pre-snap penalties, most of them were with the younger guys. But we had some pre-snap penalties with the offensive line and things of that nature. Several secondary penalties with holding.
“We made mistakes as coaches. We had 12 on the field coming out of the huddle a couple times. Some of those things we have to get better at, but that’s why you scrimmage. And we will. Overall, I thought it was really good. We did have a couple guys get banged up out there with Sam Mbake and Nathan Bax. At this time, I don’t know the extent of either one of their injuries, but they did get injured and were unable to come back to the scrimmage.”
Another area where Pittman wasn’t pleased was with the pass protection. Arkansas is breaking in three new starters on the offensive line. Left tackle Devon Manuel didn’t practice on Saturday and Andrew Chamblee, a redshirt freshman, stepped in for him.
“Our protection has to get better,” Pittman said. “We have to give him more time. Devon Manuel did not play today. He’s out for maybe another two, three, four days. Something like that. Our pass protection — obviously Chamblee stepped in and did a nice job — but they have some pretty good pass rushers over there. We have to get better there.”
When KJ Jefferson, Jacolby Criswell, Cade Fortin and Malachi Singleton had time to pass they found some nice targets.
“(Isaac) TeSlaa certainly stood out,” Pittman said. “He catches everything. Really good players. Without watching the tape, I don’t know. There was some threes, Tyrus Washington made several catches today. I don’t really recall guys making several catches other than that. The passing game, we just didn’t protect as well as we need to.”
Pittman was quick to praise the defensive line which is a unit that has been bragged on since camp opened. Deke Adams returned there and has a deep unit.
“Well, there was a lot of them,” Pittman said when asked who stood out on the D-line. “Seven (Trajan Jeffcoat) is hard to block. I’ll tell you a guy that flashed was Taurean Carter. He was back there quite a little bit today. And Eric (Gregory) and a bunch of them. 40 (Landon Jackson). 6 (John Morgan III). They played hard. They played well today. Deke basically had a four-man rotation going on. He’s really got nine with Nico (Davillier). Nico had a really good scrimmage today. He’s got nine guys who can go over there. Well, he had eight today because we held Tank Booker out today. Nothing big. I think he’ll be ready to go by Monday, but we held him today.”
Another player that was held out was linebacker Chris “Pooh” Paul who also didn’t practice Friday.
“I thought Jaheim Thomas made a lot of plays,” Pittman said. “(Jordan) Crook. Pooh had an ankle so he didn’t play today. I thought those two. Obviously (Antonio) Grier made some plays. I’ll tell you who shined a little bit today that is coming on is (Alex) Sanford. Sanford made several plays today. I think they played pretty good.
“I’ll tell you, the defense as a whole played well. The problem is we had too many penalties in the secondary. We were just giving the offense first downs. It had to have been maybe four or five different penalties. You look at that and the world is not coming to an end, guys. We’re talking about the ones, twos and threes. We’re not talking about just the ones and all the guys who are going to play every snap, but we had too many penalties. We have to clean that up.”
Pittman went into a little more detail on Paul’s injury.
“Matter of fact, he’s got a slight MCL is what he’s got,” Pittman said. “But no, he’ll be … nawww. If we were playing a game he’d be playing today. But we weren’t so …”
With Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson getting a long look at the Hog the Hogs appear to have four cornerbacks that have impressed Pittman and others.
“Well, Nudie (Dwight McGlothern) had a good day,” Pittman said. “Jaheim (Singletary) had a good day. 25 (Kee’yon Stewart) had a good day and (Jaylon) Braxton. Those are probably our four right now … moving Snaxx. Those are probably our four guys. Really what I wanted to see today was 40 to 50 reps of the guys playing their position. Now we could have maybe moved some different guys here, here and here like on the O-line.
“We’ve got to figure out if Andrew Chamblee is right now the second-team left tackle. And I can’t answer that until I look at it. Or are we going to move somebody over there for him. I thought he played pretty good so … but today was about finding them corners to see if we could leave Snaxx at Hog to be perfectly honest. And at least for a long time in the scrimmage, I was like, yeah we’ve found them because there wasn’t a whole lot happening offensively —that’s including run and pass. Third down was a little bit different story. We’ve got some big, physical receivers that can shove around and move around some guys as well. TeSlaa and (Andrew) Armstrong are that way and (Tyrone) Broden’s a big guy so they had a little bit more success on third down at that point. But yeah, I think it probably is a good thing.”
A safety who is competing hard for a starting spot next to Hudson Clark is Alfahiym Walcott. He transferred in from Baylor, but missed the spring due to injury. Pittman liked what he saw from Walcott on Saturday.
“He looked good to me,” Pittman said. “He was a little banged up going into it. But down in the red area his job was to fill the A gap and I promise you he did you know. He was sitting back there and they opened it up. Really the B gap. But they opened it up and here he came. You know, it’s hard to be transfer kid and come in and earn the respect of the team the way he has. We’ve got some other guys who have done that too. He’s got a special personality. He’ll rock you now and he showed it today.”
Walcott could figure in at the Hog, but played strictly safety on Saturday.
“I didn’t want to play anybody today two positions,” Pittman said. “So when they came to me and started talking to me about how we’re going to play the players, because you have to figure that out before you ever go out there because you have to give them — it’s opportunity. You have to get them an opportunity at a position to win the position.
“At first it was him (Snaxx) going to Hog and then playing some corner and I said, ‘No, no, no. We’ve got to figure out if he’s the Hog.’ And J-Lew (Jaylen Lewis) made a nice interception today, too, but we’ve got to find that out. So I don’t really know what I think about that yet because I haven’t watched the tape, but I would assume Snaxx had a good day at the Hog and that’s the only place he played. We know he can play corner eventually down the road if we need him.”
Pittman detailed what the next week of practice will look like with the season opener just three weeks away. The Hogs will scrimmage again next Saturday.
“I still think we have a lot of battles,” Pittman said. “So we still have to watch that. I think probably by Tuesday, probably Wednesday at the latest, our install will be done. It needs to be, I mean. We’ve got to figure out what we can run both sides of the ball to beat Western Carolina and run well that we know it. So, next week will be a lot about… nothing about Western Carolina. It’ll be all about, really, the evaluating ourself. Like, I’m not sure who asked me. You might have about the corners. We’ve got to figure out who they are. Can we leave Snaxx there. Are we okay here. And we’ve still get another week to do that. You know, you can beat somebody out during the season, but it’s hard. During the season… So, we’re still evaluating all that. During the season, you very rarely beat a guy out. He loses his job. You know what I mean? In pre-camp, you can still beat a man out.
“So, we’re going to scrimmage again next week, and then after that probably go another probably go another three days, and then we’ll start working on Western Carolina. But this week right here is about cleaning up this scrimmage, cleaning up mistakes that we had, finding out our best 11, and then more importantly probably even after that is finding out our best 15 on both sides of the ball. I think we’re closer than we… I think we’re pretty close of what we’re doing, but hopefully somebody on this film that’s younger that we weren’t thinking about kind of shows out and you go, ‘Hey, well let’s give him reps, let’s move him up a little bit. See if he can play with the twos, see if he’s ready for SEC ball or not.”
The Razorbacks will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 2, at 3 p.m. in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.