FAYETTEVILLE — Following back-to-back 2-10 seasons at the University of Arkansas it’s easy to forecast improvement expected this fall.
Even the most skeptical person would probably admit it would be hard to not to be improved over the past two years. After all, Arkansas hasn’t been very good on either side the ball in recent seasons.
To fix the offensive woes, Sam Pittman hired Kendal Briles to coordinate the unit and coach the quarterbacks. His first hire was to bring Brad Davis from Missouri to Fayetteville to coach the line. Pittman also retained Justin Stepp from the Chad Morris staff and then added Jimmy Smith to coach running backs and Jon Cooper the tight ends.
The Hogs got some great news when running back Rakeem Boyd opted to return for his senior season. Boyd had a great junior season. He rushed 184 times for 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns to lead the team. He also was fifth on the squad with 19 receptions for 160 yards. Smith will look to players such as senior TJ Hammonds, sophomore Trelon Smith and redshirt freshman A’Montae Spivey for some action as well. Dominique Johnson is a true freshman.
Few teams in the country have a better group of starters at wide receiver. The Hogs return junior Mike Woods along with sophomores Treylon Burks and Trey Knox. Woods caught 33 passes for 423 yards and four touchdowns in 2019. He tied with Cheyenne O’Grady for team lead in receptions. Burks added 29 catches for a team-leading 475 yards and Knox grabbed 28 passes for 385 yards and three touchdowns.
Senior Tyson Morris returns after catching 13 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown. Among the other key returning wide receivers are junior Koilan Jackson, senior De’Vion Warren, redshirt freshman Shamar Nash, sophomore Kendall Catalon and redshirt freshman John David White. Darin Turner is a true freshman and Kevin Compton is a preferred walk-on true freshman.
Feleipe Franks has transferred in from Florida hoping to fix the constant running of quarterbacks in and out of the lineup. Arkansas started five different quarterbacks last season.
Franks had a lot of success with the Gators before being injured last fall. He will be challenged by redshirt freshman KJ Jefferson, senior Jack Lindsey, sophomore John Stephen Jones and true freshman Malik Hornsby. At Florida, Franks completed 367 of 622 passes for 4,593 yards, 38 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He rushed 189 times for 438 yards and eight touchdowns.
Tight end is a very inexperienced unit following the loss of four from last year’s squad. The Hogs return redshirt freshman Hudson Henry, senior Blake Kern and true freshmen Collin Sutherland. Jonas Higson is a preferred walk-on from Bentonville West. The latest roster released by Arkansas lists Blayne Toll as a defensive end instead of tight end. He was recruited to play on the defensive line, but then moved to tight end after he reported.
Hudson caught three passes for 15 yards last fall and none of the others have any receptions going into season. Kern came to Arkansas as a walk on but has since earned a scholarship. He is a noted blocker. Henry is up to 6-foot-5, 249-pounds now and could develop into a star like his brother Hunter did with the Hogs.
The offensive line will be bigger in 2020 and thus Pittman feels better. The returning starters from last year are senior Ty Clary, sophomore Ricky Stromberg, senior Myron Cunningham and junior Dalton Wagner. All are bigger than last season. Sophomore Noah Gatlin is back following a redshirt year in 2019 due to knee injury.
Others on the offensive line are junior Shane Clenin, senior Chibueze Nwanna, sophomore Luke Jones, sophomore Ryan Winkel, redshirt freshmen Beaux Limmer, Dylan Rathcke and Brady Latham, true freshman Marcus Henderson, Jalen St. John and Ray Curry Jr., redshirt freshmen walk-on Drew Vest and Austin Nix and true freshman walk-on Payton Simpson.
Arkansas scored 55 points against Colorado State and the most they scored in an SEC game was 27 against Texas A&M.