FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas football team was without a pair of offensive starters as it began preparing for Cincinnati on Thursday.
Left guard Brady Latham wasn’t spotted during the media’s viewing period for the third straight day, while wide receiver Jadon Haselwood was missing for a second straight day.
However, head coach Sam Pittman told reporters after Thursday’s practice that he still believed both would be available come the Sept. 3 opener at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“I feel strongly both of them will be back for the game,” Pittman said. “I’m not positive the day. Our goal will be to get them back no later than Monday, but of course we just have to wait and see on that.”
Pittman went so far as to say that Latham, who was recently tabbed a preseason third-team All-SEC selection by the conference’s coaches, was probably healthy enough to practice, if needed.
Instead, Arkansas has decided to tweak its practice schedule in order to give him and Haselwood an extra day to recover from their undisclosed injuries. The “mock game” — which is essentially a glorified walk-through designed to give the team an idea of how game day plays out — has been moved up to Friday.
On Saturday, when the mock game was originally scheduled, the Razorbacks will have a regular practice formatted the same as a Tuesday during game week.
“We wanted to buy another day and hopefully we can get some guys back, so tomorrow will be our mock game,” Pittman said. “We’re going to come back Saturday in full pads on our Tuesday practice, so hopefully we can get some of the guys that are a little beat up and dinged up back by that time.”
How Arkansas Football Would Adjust
While Pittman may be optimistic about both players returning in time for the opener, Arkansas has gone through a couple of practices without them and there’s a pretty clear plan in place if either is unavailable.
As expected, the injury to Brady Latham has moved junior Ty’Kieast Crawford — whom Pittman has essentially named the sixth man of the offensive line — into the starting lineup.
Although he’s listed as the backup right tackle on the depth chart, Crawford is capable of playing multiple spots on either side of the offensive line. The Razorbacks are keeping him on the right side by moving Beaux Limmer into Latham’s left guard spot, opening up right guard for Crawford.
“If we played those five guys, and Brady couldn’t come back, we’d be fine,” Pittman said. “We feel like we’d field a really fine offensive line. It hurts your depth a little bit because now your No. 1 depth player in Crawford is starting.”
Ultimately, this could end up just being the latest example of cross-training up front. When he was healthy, Latham also got some snaps at left tackle in the event of an injury to starter Luke Jones.
In addition to starting at right guard and practicing at left guard the last couple of days, Limmer has been getting several reps at center in the event of an injury to starter Ricky Stromberg. That would once again open up a spot for Crawford, who could also get a lot of work at right tackle this year as injury-prone Dalton Wagner’s backup.
“Any time you have an injury, as long as it’s not a season-ending injury, it should benefit somebody on the team,” Pittman said. “This one certainly has Ty’Kieast and Limmer. We played Limmer at center as well when Ricky was beat up for practice, so I think we will end up being a better offensive line because of this.”
Jadon Haselwood going down has also required some shuffling at the wide receiver spot. He plays the slot position, where a couple of young speedsters — redshirt freshman Bryce Stephens and true freshman Isaiah Sategna — are battling for the backup job, but it’s actually been sophomore Ketron Jackson Jr. getting work in the slot in Haselwood’s absence.
Throughout fall camp, Jackson played on the outside and was seemingly going head-to-head with Georgia/Toledo transfer Matt Landers for the third starting job. Late in camp, it became clear that Landers won that battle, but Jackson was still probably Arkansas’ No. 4 wide receiver.
That’s why the Razorbacks moved him into the slot Wednesday, as it allowed their top three available receivers to be on the field at once. Pittman said he’s hopeful to get Haselwood back for the Cincinnati game, but he still feels good if Jackson has to play in his place.
“I pulled him aside and told him I thought he did a really good job there. We had a meeting in case Haselwood’s not able to play, who are our three top receivers and where do we need to put them to have the most success. Ketron has probably played as much ball as any of them. We know he knows that position, so I think we’ll be fine there as well.”
Update on Dominique Johnson’s Recovery
The Razorbacks are being cautious with it, but running back Dominique Johnson returned to the practice field this week. Not quite eight months removed from tearing his ACL in the Outback Bowl, he’s worn a green non-contact jersey and not participated in anything except individual drills.
Pittman previously said it was doubtful that the junior from Texas would be available to play in the opener against Cincinnati, but he didn’t rule it out Thursday evening — albeit it doesn’t sound likely.
“The great thing is he hasn’t had any swelling,” Pittman said. “He’s been out there. He hasn’t done a whole lot, but he’s done full indy and hasn’t had swelling on it, so hopefully it continues that way after today’s practice and hopefully we can get him out there and move him around a little bit Monday.”
The goal is to get him some reps against the scout team next week so he can experience some contact before making any final decisions.
Whether it comes in Week 1, the following week against South Carolina or later in the season, Johnson’s return would be a nice boost to an already deep running back room.
A relative unknown buried behind more veteran (Trelon Smith) and more heralded (Rocket Sanders, AJ Green) running backs last season, he was highly productive when he got his chances and eventually started six of the final seven games. Johnson finished the year with 575 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns on 97 carries — an impressive 5.9 yards per carry.
As things currently stand without him, Sanders is the clear-cut starter, while Green and true freshman Rashod Dubinion will also get work as the backups.
Return of Marcus Miller
Despite it being his first day back at practice following arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this month, defensive tackle Marcus Miller was not in a green non-contact jersey Thursday afternoon.
Pittman told reporters he “worked his tail off rehabbing” and that he’d be ready to play against Cincinnati “without any doubt.”
“We put him a little bit versus the scouts today,” Pittman said. “I didn’t want to put him against the big, (No. 1) O-line or anybody like that. I didn’t want that the first day back, but I thought he looked pretty good. I think he will be ready to go and it’s really good for him.”
Of course, even if Miller is available to play, it’s unclear how big of a factor he’ll be on the defensive line. In a four-man front, Isaiah Nichols, Eric Gregory, Terry Hampton and Cam Ball are almost certainly ahead of him on the depth chart.
Needing extra bodies because of Miller’s injury and a couple of concussions at one point during fall camp, Arkansas also moved four-star freshman Nico Davillier inside and he drew rave reviews from the coaching staff and his teammates. He might also be ahead of Miller.
Other Razorbacks in Green
In addition to Dominique Johnson, offensive lineman Marcus Henderson and wide receiver Jaedon Wilson were still in green non-contact jerseys Thursday.
Pittman said Wilson (shoulder) being in green was more of a precaution, as they don’t want to hit him yet, but he should be ready to play against Cincinnati. He is expected to compete for a spot in the wide receiver rotation when fully healthy and was running mostly with the second-team offense before getting hurt.
The update on Henderson (pectoral) was not as encouraging. He’s been in green all fall and has yet to participate in individual drills, much less do full-contact activities. At the start of camp, Pittman said he thought he might only be limited for a couple of weeks and then again told reporters last week that he hoped Henderson would be ready for Cincinnati.
He changed his tune Thursday and said he wasn’t counting on him being available for the Week 1 matchup. Henderson was projected to be the backup center, but as mentioned above, Beaux Limmer would likely be the backup center if something happened to Ricky Stromberg, assuming he isn’t already filling in elsewhere. That scenario could get a bit trickier.
It’s also worth noting that redshirt freshmen Devon Manuel (undisclosed) and Josh Street (ankle), a walk-on, have yet to return to practice. Before their injuries, they were running with the second unit at left tackle and center, respectively.
Check out what Sam Pittman had to say after the first day of Cincinnati prep:
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