FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman touched on several defensive topics during a Zoom conference on Wednesday.
Pittman talked about the spring game coming up on Saturday, but also touched on other topics. Several of the other topics concerned the Arkansas defense.
Pittman was asked if any players have surprised him this spring. He mentioned a couple of defensive linemen as well as a pair of true freshmen.
“Taurean Carter’s had a really good spring,” Pittman said. “Along with Zach Williams, who is at 265 now. The D-line has surprised me. They’re playing better ball than possibly what I might think. Young guy (linebacker Chris) Pooh Paul has come in and learned the [defense] and done a really nice job. Jayden Johnson there at safety has surprised me with his ability to learn the defense and get where he’s supposed to be with the physicality that he’s playing. Really those are the guys who come off of my head just quickly when you ask that question.”
Williams played in nine games in 2020. He finished with 22 tackles, including nine solo, 1.5 for loss, one sack and a quarterback hurry. Carter was in eight games, finished with 11 tackles, including four solo, and one pass breakup.
Arkansas returns some experienced linebackers including Grant Morgan, Bumper Pool and Hayden Henry. Both Henry and Morgan took advantage of the NCAA allowing an extra senior season to return in 2021. Pool is slated to be a senior this fall. Pittman is enjoying the competition at linebacker.
“It’s a true competition,” Pittman said. “I don’t know if we rolled out there for starters today, I’m not for sure which one of those two would be, so they’re having a good, healthy competition. Part of that, too, I want to tell you is some of it would be because we’re going to hold Hayden out of any tackling type situation. So, he didn’t play in the two scrimmages, nor will he in the spring game. That was kind of something that he and I talked about in order to get him to come back. He had some shoulder injuries and some things in the past that he felt he needed to get healthy. So, we certainly wanted him to do that. So, part of it is that. But there is a real competition there between those two guys.”
In 2020, Morgan topped the team in tackles with 111 including 40 solo. Pool added 101 including 40 unassisted. Both Morgan and Pool played in nine games each. Henry played in all 10 games. He finished with 25 tackles including 14 solo.
Improved Pass Rush
One emphasis Pittman said prior to spring ball was improving the pass rush. He hired Jermial Ashley from Tulsa to help with that.
“I love Coach Ashley,” Pittman said. “He’s really done a nice job with these guys. I mean, you can talk to him about it. I’m sure they’ll tell you the same thing. We’ve gotten bigger. We got a good strength and conditioning coach and coaches in there. But we’ve gotten better. We can actually get some rush in the three down line. Certainly we’re playing more four down line than what we did last year. But I think we’re going to be able to get to the quarterback without bringing linebackers. Certainly hope so. We still have some scholarships that we can push forward so if there’s some guys out there that can help us in generating some pass rush, that would be the first place that we went to.”
Jashaud Stewart Making Strides
Redshirt freshman defensive end Jashaud Stewart is making a case for playing this time this season. He has even worked with the first unit some this spring.
“He plays extremely hard,” Pittman said. “He’s gotten bigger. We’d like for him to get maybe another 10-12 pounds on him. He’s 240 right now, 238, somewhere in there. I’d like to get him around 250. He plays with a tremendous amount of energy, he chases the ball, and you’re going to get him every snap. Whatever he’s got in there, that’s what you’re going to get every snap.
“And I don’t believe you have to be a senior to lead. I think you’ve got to beat somebody out then you become a leader, and that’s what he’s done. He’s moved up the depth chart and he’s made guys that are ahead of him and behind him play harder. The bottom line is he’s relentless with his effort and he’s going to make a lot of plays. He’s not the biggest, not all of those things, but he is one hard-working, hard-playing guy, and it’s unfortunate that I don’t know that we’ll be able to see him on Saturday.”