FAYETTEVILLE — Obviously Arkansas will need and have more than six returning players step up this fall for a successful season, but here’s a look at a half dozen Hogs very important to the squad.
Arkansas is coming off a 7-6 season that saw them lose four games by a combined nine points. They were 9-4 in 2021 so the trend is upward for Sam Pittman’s Hogs after three disappointing seasons prior to his arrival. Even 3-7 in the 2020 COVID season was a marked improvement in that it was against an all-SEC schedule and came after the Hogs won one conference game during that three-year span prior to Pittman’s arrival.
But this is an important spring and season for Pittman. Unlike following the 2021 season, Arkansas lost several key starters to the transfer portal. Following 2021, Greg Brooks and Joe Foucha left for LSU and Vito Calvaruso went to Wisconsin. Others left, but weren’t starters. Brooks and Foucha were defensive backs while Calvaruso was a kickoff specialist who wanted a bigger role in the kicking game.
The Razorbacks have done a good job in the transfer portal and also recruiting high school prospects. The Hogs still have nine scholarships remaining and will be active in the transfer portal in April.
While the Hogs have brought in several recruits, both transfers and high school, who can and will help immediately there’s some returning players who will be very important to the success the Hogs have in 2023 against a challenging SEC portion of schedule.
Here’s six returning players, three on each side of the ball, who are keys for success in 2023.
KJ Jefferson, QB
The Hogs were 7-4 in games that Jefferson started in 2022. He was the MVP of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Jefferson’s decision to return for 2023 was huge for the Hogs. He will be working with a new coach and offensive coordinator in Dan Enos. But Enos is expected to build his offense around the strengths of Jefferson, which are many. Jefferson didn’t miss any games in 2021 and that was a key to the Hogs 9-4 record. His health is always a key. Jefferson was second on the team in rushing with 158 carries for 640 yards and nine touchdowns. He completed 204 of 300 passes for 2,648 yards, 24 touchdowns and five interceptions as well in 11 games.
Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, RB
He was injured early in the bowl win over Kansas. But otherwise Sanders managed to play in all the games. He carried 222 times for 1,443 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s also a favorite target of Jefferson as he’s the leading receiver returning to the team. Sanders caught 28 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. Sanders’ 28 receptions ranked third on the team behind only Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers who are off to the NFL. Arkansas has a deep running back room as evidenced in the bowl game when Rashod Dubinion and AJ Green had outstanding games after Sanders went down. Incoming freshman Isaiah Augustave is very capable of making an impact as well. The running back room led by Jimmy Smith should assure Enos a very successful offense.
Beaux Limmer, C
The strongest Razorback on the team is moving over to center from right guard. He played center in the bowl game. Limmer returning for the season and playing center should drastically help his NFL stock for 2024. Ricky Stromberg has been a solid force at center while Limmer has been in Fayetteville, but with the former Tulsa (Okla.) Union standout headed to the NFL the chance is there for Limmer to take over that position now. Pittman has said a few times he expects Limmer to be outstanding there.
Chris “Pooh” Paul, LB
Paul stepped up big in 2022 as Bumper Pool battled injuries much of the season. He provided Arkansas with one of the best linebacker trios in the nation. Pool and Drew Sanders were both outstanding, but Paul took a big step as a redshirt freshman to draw praise from both the older linebackers as well as the coaches. Paul had two starts, Missouri and Kansas, finishing with 62 tackles, 38 solo, eight for loss, four sacks, three quarterback hurries, one forced and recovered fumble. With both Sanders and Pool gone it’s Paul that is now the leader of Travis Williams’ linebacker room. Transfer Antonio Grier will be among the ones competing for that other spot as will Jordan Crook and others. But it will be Paul who is not only the leader of the linebacker room, but one of the team leaders despite just being a redshirt sophomore. Mani Powell, Kaden Henley and some impressive freshmen are expected to battle for time as well.
Dwight McGlothern, CB
The former LSU cornerback was very good for Arkansas in his first season in Fayetteville. He brought solid play to a position that needed it. He provides Marcus Woodson and Deron Wilson with an older cornerback who can be one of the keys to a successful 2023. McGlothern finished with 52 tackles, 43 solo, one for loss, a team-leading four interceptions and 10 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a recovered one. McGlothern weighed entering the 2023 NFL Draft against returning to Arkansas for another season. With the coaching of Woodson and Wilson that is a very wise move and one that should pay off not only for McGlothern, but the Razorbacks.
Quincey McAdoo, CB
The most unlikely story of 2022 has to go to McAdoo. He was recruited out of Clarendon as a wide receiver and practiced there. But when injuries ravaged the secondary, McAdoo went to Pittman and offered to help there. McAdoo was outstanding on both sides of the ball at Clarendon, but the SEC is a different level of play. No one should expect a true freshman to move to cornerback from wide receiver midway through the season and have an abundance of success. But that’s exactly what McAdoo did. He completely changed the way teams attacked the cornerback opposite McGlothern. He made them pay for coming at him in most instances. McAdoo finished with 30 tackles, 20 solo, one for loss, a sack, two interceptions, four pass breakups and blocked a punt for a safety. McAdoo is the perfect example of an athlete from inside the state of Arkansas who is considerably better than was figured coming out of high school though he was a four-star recruit. McAdoo has a very bright future with the Hogs.