FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas will open spring drills on Tuesday and Sam Pittman likes what he has seen to this point during the offseason workouts.
Returning are 20 starters, but the two he has to replace won’t be easy. Quarterback Feleipe Franks and defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall are both set for Arkansas’ Pro Day on Wednesday. Pittman talked about who he is looking at with Franks and Marshall gone. Redshirt sophomore KJ Jefferson is set to make a move at quarterback.
“Well we’re going to 2-spot everything, in other words we’re going to have two fields going, because we have numbers,” Pittman said. “And so Malik (Hornsby) right now will be on the 2 field. To start out we’re going 1s and freshmen, 2s and 3s. He’ll be down there getting as many reps, and the same reps, as what K.J. would. But right now K.J.’s our starter and we certainly anticipate a really nice battle. All that’s going to do is make you better. And the kids understand it. It’ll make K.J. better, it’ll make Malik better. It’ll make (Lucas) Coley, (Kade) Renfro whomever, John Stephen (Jones), it’ll make everybody better.”
Pittman was asked if Kendal Briles would adjust the offense to fit the quarterbacks, but he said that isn’t necessary.
“And as far as what I envision – Kendal’s offense – and I’ve watched it on tape before he was hired, I think who we have at quarterback right now is probably tailored to his offense a little bit more even than what Feleipe was,” Pittman said. “Because Feleipe was what I’m going to call a surprising runner. He ran better than what I thought he would. These other guys are certainly capable of being a running back as well. So they all can throw or they wouldn’t be here. But I think it will be more of Kendal putting in everything in his offense that he can vs. some of the the things he may not have had because of Feleipe and our depth chart.”
Jefferson has played in eight games thus far with a pair of starts. He has completd 34 of 72 passes for 492 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He has rushed 58 times for 125 yards and two touchowns. He started in 2019 at LSU and then in 2020 at Missouri. Pittman likes Jefferson’s leadership as well.
“Yeah, I do,” Pittman said. “Team believes in him. Heck, I believe in him. He’s done a nice job. Again, his work ethic has been leadership in itself, and he’s becoming more vocal. He’s vocal as he needs to be to be honest with you, and I’ll tell you this; Feleipe, he wasn’t a very vocal guy, either. But his work ethic was, and that’s the same way with KJ.”
As far as replacing Marshall, Pittman listed three players who will likely get the first look there.
“Everybody is what we’re looking at,” Pittman said. “I dunno, you know, at the nose right now it’s (Taurean) Carter and (Isaiah) Nichols and Marcus Miller is where we’re playing those guys right there. Certainly we have opportunities to move forward in the transfer market as well. We’ll kind of figure that out as it goes. We have who we have right now and they’ve got to get better and they’re working hard towards doing that.”
While 20 starters do return, that doesn’t mean they will start in 2021 just because they started this past season.
“So I’m really excited,” Pittman said. “There’s basically, and you guys know where there might be a little more degree of separation in players than others, but there’s a lot of positions up for – somebody told me we have 20 returners coming back, starters but there’s a lot of battles in those 20. So that’s really exciting.”
Koilan Jackson has moved to tight end, but he may not get to practice this spring. He is one of the players Pittman named coming off injuries.
“I think we had four that were limited,” Pittman said. “Koilan Jackson is still limited. Collin Sutherland is still limited. De’Vion Warren we’ll be very, very slow with him. And Levi Draper. Levi had some shoulder surgeries, so he’s still going to be a little bit limited there. After that, besides some nagging injury here or there I think we’ll have our full roster.”
Warren is a wide receiver, Draper linebacker and Sutherland a tight end as well. Pittman talked about the move of Jackson to tight end.
“You know, he wanted to do it, and I was all happy for him to do it,” Pittman said. “We haven’t really seen enough out of him to be honest with you, Hutch, to figure it all out yet. He’s still injured. He probably won’t do much in the spring, so he’s getting bigger. We said, ‘If you want to be a tight end, you’re going to have to gain some weight. He wanted to do it, I was more than happy to move him over there. But we just haven’t seen enough to figure it out yet. He’s been kind of hurt ever since I’ve been here.”
Replacing Noah Gatlin
Noah Gatlin retired from football last week due to a knee injury and concussions. He started five games last season. Dalton Wagner is back for his senior season. A new possibility at right tackle is Charlotte transfer, Ty’kieast Crawford, who is immediately eligible.
“Well yeah, I think so,” Pittman said. “We certainly wouldn’t have gone out to get him if we didn’t think he could be the future. How fast the future is depends on how fast he learns the offense because he’s very, very talented.
“Obviously, it was a very sad situation with Noah. The concussions and things of that nature. We certainly understand that, and we hate it for him to have to retire from football. He hated it, but we’re going to get him in here and he’s going to help us coach and things of that nature. Certainly understand it, but it was a sad day because he’s a really good kid and a good football player.”