3 Areas of Concern for Arkansas Include Pass Protection Woes

KJ Jefferson, Arkansas football, Arkansas fall camp, Arkansas scrimmage
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

Arkansas football held its first scrimmage of fall camp Saturday morning, exactly three weeks out from its season opener.

Much of Sam Pittman’s press conference afterward focused on what the Razorbacks did well and which players had productive days, but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

The fourth-year coach also discussed a couple areas of concern that Arkansas must figure out and fix before it hosts Western Carolina at War Memorial Stadium on Sept. 2.

Too Many Flags

The Razorbacks treated the scrimmage as a dry run of sorts for their opener, which included bringing in an SEC officiating crew. Sam Pittman asked them to call it as if it were a real game and the result wasn’t pretty.

There were numerous pre-snap penalties, mostly on the younger offensive linemen, and several holding penalties in the secondary. The latter of those were a boost to the offense, which Pittman said won most of the situational segments in the scrimmage.

“The defense as a whole played well,” Pittman said. “The problem is we had too many penalties in the secondary. We were just giving the offense first downs. It had to have been maybe four or five different penalties.”

There were also a couple of times they broke the huddle with 12 men on the field, which Pittman said were coaching mistakes.

He was disappointed about the pre-snap penalties and called them mental errors, but said it was actually a good thing the others happened now because it can be sorted out before the real games start.

“We need this,” Pittman said. “We need to be able to show penalties and just have a reel of them and say why and teach them, things of that nature. So, yes, I was disappointed we had pre-snap ones. The ones on the secondary, that’s just simply, to me, coaching and teaching that we can correct.”

Of course, it’s also worth noting that Pittman didn’t specify which units – first-, second- or third-team – committed the penalties. He didn’t seem too panicked about it, but it will certainly be a point of emphasis heading into next week’s scrimmage.

“You look at that and the world is not coming to an end, guys,” Pittman said. “We’re talking about the ones, twos and threes. We’re not talking about just the ones and all the guys who are going to play every snap, but we had too many penalties. We have to clean that up.”

Pass Protection Issues

One of the position groups Sam Pittman was particularly pleased with in Saturday’s scrimmage was the defensive line.

According to a team spokesperson, the defensive tackle trio of Taurean Carter (1.5), Eric Gregory (1.5) and Marcus Miller (1) combined for four tackles for loss. Arkansas’ two transfer defensive ends, Trajan Jeffcoat and John Morgan III, each had a sack, as well.

The flip side of that was a subpar showing by the offensive line. The scrimmage was closed to reporters, but Pittman painted a picture of KJ Jefferson running for his life for most of the day.

“Our protection has to get better,” Pittman said. “We have to give him more time. … The passing game, we just didn’t protect as well as we need to.”

On top of needing to replace center Ricky Stromberg and both tackles – Dalton Wagner and Luke Jones – the Razorbacks were without projected starting left tackle Devon Manuel because of an undisclosed injury. Redshirt freshman Andrew Chamblee filled in for him.

Arkansas Football Injury Report

Unfortunately, Arkansas football didn’t make it through Saturday injury free.

Sam Pittman said wide receiver Sam Mbake and tight end Nathan Bax left the scrimmage early because of injuries, but declined to go into detail about either of them.

However, later in the day, Mbake posted on Instagram that we’d “have to wait a lil longer” and to “trust the process,” indicating his injury might be significant and keep him out for an extended period of time.

The Razorbacks also held out a pair of projected starters, left tackle Devon Manuel and linebacker Chris Paul Jr., and another player pushing for a starting job, defensive tackle Anthony Booker Jr.

No details of Manuel’s injury were revealed, but Pittman said Booker should be ready to go Monday and that Paul – whose injury was described as an ankle and a “slight MCL” – probably would have been able to play if it was a real game.


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