FAYETTEVILLE — The second preseason scrimmage is in the books and Sam Pittman felt some areas were better than the first one this past Saturday.
Pittman said the No. 2 running back battle is settled, at least for now, with true freshman Rocket Sanders going to back up starter Trelon Smith.
“Well 5 (Rocket Sanders) is No. 2,” Pittman said. “5 is No. 2. He ran well. He ran hard. Had a good day. Had a really good day. With Rocket, last week, I’m not for sure that he had – I don’t know – but I can’t remember if he had more than a 5 or 7-yard run last week. In last week’s scrimmage.
“But he improved so much from in practice, I believe, because, ‘Hey, I’m in the SEC. I got hit by SEC players and I’m still .. I’m OK. And I think he gained a lot of confidence last week. That’s why I was hoping that AJ Green would be in this scrimmage today. I felt he would take that leap as well. But obviously we weren’t able to get him in there. Two is Rocket. I think that, and I think your three back is going to be between Dominique (Johnson) and (Josh) Oglesby, with Green having that opportunity when he’s able to practice.”
Defensive end Zach Williams goes against Sanders most days in practice. He talked about what he likes about him.
“He’s pretty strong and he’s fast,” Williams said. “You can’t lose contain. You can’t just try to wrap him up and fall to the ground. He will take you for about a good 5 to 10 yards you know. If you hit him you’ve got to hit him real good.”
Pittman talked about what he likes about Sanders even beyond just what he does with the football in his hands.
“You go over to academics and that’s the first guy they mention,” Pittman said. “Always on time, asking questions, this, that and the other. He is who he is. The way he runs his life, he’s so accountable. But on the field what I like about him is he’s hitting the hole faster. He’s got speed. A lot of times – but he’s also 228 pounds. So a guy that has speed.
“If they nicknamed me Rocket, I’d try to run the ball outside and you guys all no I ain’t got no speed. So that’s what he’s trying to do. Earlier, he was trying to cut the ball outside. He’s 228 pounds man. That’s what he’s doing a little bit more now and that’s what he did today. Make people tackle you. If you’re fast and you’re that size, make some people tackle you. Every now and then you can run by them, but that’s what he’s doing better than what he did earlier in the scrimmage and camp.”
Arkansas was missing several key players for various reasons. Pittman commented on some and not on the others.
“I want to start by talking about some of the guys we held for whatever reason, and I want to talk to you about why we did,” Pittman said. “(Wide receiver) De’Vion Warren, we held him out. He tweaked his hamstring Friday in practice, so he did not go today. (Running back) Trelon Smith, he’s got a little turf toe. We’ve been holding him out. He did not go today. (Center) Ricky Stromberg had a little bit of a sprained MCL. He’s been practicing on and off, but because he really got cleared to come back on Thursday in limited contact, we did not play him today. (Safety) Jalen Catalon, last scrimmage, had a shoulder that was beat up a little bit. We’ve been doing some medical work on him, and that medical work did not allow him to practice today. All four of those guys will be ready. Most of them will be ready to participate in practice on Monday.”
Then Pittman mentioned some others who didn’t practice.
“The other section is different,” Pittman said. “I won’t comment on any of their injuries, but I will tell you that each guy I’m getting ready to talk about, I believe will be ready for Rice. But certainly, if we played Rice today, they would not have played. That’s (wide receiver) Treylon Burks, (running back-wide receiver) TJ Hammonds, (running back) AJ Green and (punter) Sam Loy. They did not play today, but I expect all of them to be ready for the Rice game.”
Pittman felt KJ Jefferson had a good day, but praised backup Malik Hornsby for a couple of big plays.
“Did KJ throw a touchdown pass today?,” Pittman said. ” I don’t know. I know Malik had a long run for touchdown and threw a long pass for a touchdown. I don’t feel like KJ had a bad scrimmage. I’m trying to run the scrimmage and at times I’m not sure who did what out there as far as who it is because I’m watching both sides of the ball. I do feel like without looking at the tape that KJ did a nice job of distributing the ball, staying away from sacks.
“I felt like another thing we needed to improve on was our quarterback reads. I asked KB (Kendal Briles) and them, they tally every day a percentile of reads. To me, it’s not like you’re reading a dictionary, you’re reading a 260-pound guy over there. To me, if he’s up the field I hand the ball off, and if he’s not, I run it or throw it. I didn’t think our reads were up to what our standard is, and I think we did a better job of that today. KJ is included in that.”
Myron Cunningham blocks for the quarterbacks from his left tackle spot. He knows what Hornsby can do.
“I mean he’s getting through his reads faster,” Cunningham said. “He’s definitely one of our more athletic quarterbacks so whenever he takes off it’s a show, to say the least. I think he’s coming along great, he made some great throws and some great runs today.”
Williams praised Hornsby like he did Sanders. He is impressed with the speedy backup quarterback.
“Oooo, Malik,” Williams said. “Malik is Malik. Malik is a fast little bugger. I mean, you have to be outside of him, like if you’re not he’s just gonna out-run you and put you in a blender. But, he’s doing a lot better, I mean he was always great, but he’s doing a lot better reading stuff because it’s harder for me to read him and a back in a mixed combo, like if I get the quarterback or the back. And he’s making it a lot harder because he does it quickly, so you have to think faster, and I feel like he’s just getting better and better every day about it.”
Pittman added that he feels very comfortable with Hornsby backing up Jefferson.
“Well, he can run now, and he can roll out and throw the football,” Pittman said. “He’s getting better in the pocket, but he has to get better. But when he’s running out, he’s getting better at throwing the football and he’s a major threat with his feet. He’s No. 2. There’s not anybody, in my opinion, right now that’s that close to him as a 2 quarterback. I think whenever we get into live games and he’s able to use his feet and somebody’s not tagging him and the play’s down, I think he’ll be a really good quarterback for us. I don’t know that we’ll run the same exact offense with him in the game because we want to use his attributes.”