FAYETTEVILLE — With the 2022 season opener just days away, most of the Arkansas football depth chart is set. A few backup jobs are still up for grabs, but very few questions remain about the starters.
The notable exception to that is at cornerback, as the Razorbacks are still considering three different players for the spot opposite of Hudson Clark on the first-team defense.
There appeared to be some clarity when the UA released its first depth chart of the year Monday and LaDarrius Bishop was listed as the starter, but head coach Sam Pittman told reporters a few minutes later that Dwight McGlothern and Malik Chavis — who were listed as backups, along with Khari Johnson — were very much still in the mix.
“I don’t know that we’re set there, to be perfectly honest with you,” Pittman said. “Clark, we feel like he’s played the most consistent of that group, and then I think we’re still trying to find out what we’ll do, whether it be Day Day (Bishop) or whether it be McGlothern or whether it be Chavis.”
Sure enough, when the media was allowed to view the first 20 or so minutes of Monday’s practice, it wasn’t Bishop with the first unit during a brief team period. Instead, for the first time since the spring, McGlothern was lined up opposite of Clark.
Although he spent much of fall camp with the third team during the portions of practice open to the media and only recently got bumped up to the second team, McGlothern’s placement Monday seems telling.
While acknowledging he feels confident in all three of the options, Pittman told reporters last Thursday that he’d like to get the situation ironed out by Monday or Tuesday, which includes settling on a starter.
If McGlothern does get the starting nod Saturday against No. 23 Cincinnati, it would confirm what most expected would happen when the former four-star recruit transferred in from LSU, where he had started six games last year.
One possible explanation for how long it’s taken Arkansas to settle on its starting cornerbacks stems from the position dealing with several injuries. Bishop, who started nine games for the Razorbacks last season, wasn’t fully healthy during the spring and then some minor injuries beset McGlothern early in fall camp.
“The problem with the corners has been nagging injuries,” Pittman said. “If we were healthy, you probably have a pretty good idea of who’s your top two corners, but we just haven’t. None of them has been healthy — groin pull here, hamstring here, quad here, just things that’s taken them out of practice, and nobody’s really Wally-Pipped anybody yet.”
The good news for Arkansas is that Pittman — now entering his third season — said it’s the best the position has been since he was hired.
That could be chalked up to coach-speak, but he and defensive coordinator Barry Odom seemingly backed it up with the way they called the defense during the spring. With those practices open in their entirety, the media saw a dramatic increase in the number of blitzes utilized by the Razorbacks.
What Increased Blitzes Could Say about Cornerbacks
Pittman has repeatedly said that the key to dialing up more pressure is not only having solid pass rushers up front, but also talented cornerbacks on the outside capable of playing man-to-man coverage.
“I think we’re a lot more prepared going into it,” Clark said. “Coach (Dominique) Bowman’s got us working our technique a lot better and…we’re blitzing a lot, so we’ve got a lot of practice with it in the spring. I feel like we’ve definitely progressed there.”
Those improvements will be immediately put to the test against a top-25 team in the Bearcats this week, not to mention Spencer Rattler and South Carolina coming to town the following week and Bobby Petrino and Missouri State the week after that.
There’s a chance that all three of the cornerbacks vying for the second starting job get some action early on this season, but it’s still a mystery as to who will start — even to Pittman as recently as Monday afternoon.
“We obviously know they’re all going to play and things of that nature,” Pittman said. “We’re still trying to figure out who is going to run out there with the ones.”
Here’s how Best of Arkansas Sports sees the pecking order at the position playing out this season…
Hear cornerbacks coach Dominique Bowman talk about his group earlier in fall camp:
1. Hudson Clark
Fans still surprised to see Hudson Clark atop this list haven’t been paying attention to the news coming out of fall camp. The former walk-on made an impressive one-handed interception to seal a two-minute drill on Day 1 and hasn’t slowed down since.
Following the Razorbacks’ second scrimmage, safety Jalen Catalon, unprompted, told reporters that Clark had four interceptions in camp and that the ball just seemed to be finding his hands. Right tackle Dalton Wagner, sitting next to Catalon during the interview, added that Clark seemed to have “magnet hands.”
When the media has been allowed to watch the wide receivers go up against the defensive backs in one-on-ones — a drill that significantly favors the offense — Clark does seem to be much improved in his coverage skills and Catalon confirmed that his technique is much better after learning from new defensive backs coach Dominique Bowman. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s added some muscle over the offseason.
Wide receiver Warren Thompson has matched up with Clark a few times and also came away feeling like Clark was much better than he was last year.
“I’d say I’ve seen Hud improve in his patience and really knowing his assignment and what he’s got to get done at the corner spot,” Thompson said. “I love him, because he’s really attentive with the details. When I break him down, he’s breaking down. He’s got good feet. I’ve really seen him improve this camp.”
That is great news for the Razorbacks because Clark has struggled in man-to-man coverage since bursting onto the scene with three interceptions against Ole Miss in 2020, a performance that earned him a scholarship.
Despite that monster game, which drew national attention, Clark has the same personality as before. A naturally quiet guy who teammates said doesn’t really say much, he is just happy to help the team in whatever ways he can.
“My role is just wherever coach plays me,” Clark said. “Special teams, whether he starts me or not, it really doesn’t matter to me. Just kind of doing my job, doing what I’m coached.”
2. Dwight McGlothern
That description of Clark’s personality provides a stark contrast to who Best of Arkansas Sports believes will ultimately be the second starting cornerback, even if he doesn’t get the nod against Cincinnati.
Coming from LSU, a school with a legitimate claim to be “DBU,” there is nothing quiet about Dwight McGlothern. It was immediately evident that the former four-star recruit liked to talk back in the spring — so much so that Pittman told reporters that he was trying to tone it down a little bit.
Teammates have described that part of McGlothern’s game as “confidence” and “swag,” which was echoed by defensive backs coach Dominique Bowman.
“He brings, for one, that SEC experience,” Bowman said. “He started at LSU. He’s tough, he’s a competitor, he’s long, he’s smart. He’s played a bunch of ball, as well. He does bring that confidence in a room. When he walks in a room, he’s going to let you know he’s the best guy in that room.”
Assuming he’s healthy, McGlothern is a strong candidate to start and play a lot of snaps for the Razorbacks. After getting significant reps down the stretch as a true freshman in 2020, he worked his way into the starting lineup for six games as a sophomore for the Tigers.
Highlighted by a pick six against Florida and six pass breakups, McGlothern earned a solid 69.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus last season — which is the best among Arkansas’ returning cornerbacks, topping Clark’s 63.5.
3. LaDarrius Bishop
For much of last season, the Arkansas football team had a pair of four-star prospects from Ashdown as its starting cornerbacks, as LaDarrius Bishop started nine games opposite of his cousin, Montaric Brown.
Including four previous starts, Bishop is by far the most experienced player of the bunch and could still see a healthy amount of snaps this season. In fact, he spent about a week with the first-team defense in fall camp and was still a starter during the Razorbacks’ second scrimmage.
“We need DayDay to play at a high level for us to be successful,” Bowman said. “I’m not saying he’s going to start or not start, but we’re going to need him to play.”
4. Malik Chavis
Perhaps one of the more surprising developments this offseason has been Malik Chavis emerging as a viable option to start at cornerback.
After being a backup safety last season, Chavis changed positions in the spring and is still adjusting focusing on only one guy rather than surveying the whole field. That said, learning a position is nothing new for the Rison product, as he played all over the field in high school.
“Really when I got here, coming from a 2A school, small school, I really didn’t know a lot of DB stuff,” Chavis said. “So my first couple years, I had to get accustomed to DB technique and all that.”
Chavis actually spent the first chunk of fall camp running with the first-team defense. He said his best skill is his speed, which helps him recover if a receiver does get by him. The key for him is technique.
“He’s very athletic, he’s 6-3, long, 200 pounds, can run and jump,” Bowman said. “I think he’s a pro if he buys in to the technique and the fundamentals and gets it from the neck up.”
5. Khari Johnson
Despite being an unheralded two-star recruit coming out of Connecticut, Khari Johnson got on the field a decent amount as a true freshman and actually made one start. He’s appeared in 14 games over the last two years and played 183 career defensive snaps.
However, when defensive backs coach Dominique Bowman met with reporters early in fall camp, he said Johnson was still well behind the group of four players vying for a starting job.
It doesn’t sound like he’s ready to compete for a spot on the first team yet, but he has apparently closed the gap between him and that group quite a bit. Since Bowman’s comments, he’s been seen getting a lot of second-team reps and has earned praise from Pittman for how much he’s improved in practice.
At the very least, Johnson should get playing time on special teams, but if there are injuries in front of him, he could become a rotational piece in the secondary.
Arkansas Football: 2022 Cornerbacks Overview
Lock to Start
1. Hudson Clark — redshirt junior
Fighting for Second Starting Job
2. Dwight McGlothern — junior
3. LaDarrius Bishop — redshirt senior
4. Malik Chavis — redshirt junior
Could Crack the Rotation
5. Khari Johnson — junior
Not Expected to Contribute Much
~Keuan Parker — redshirt freshman
~Courtney Snelling — senior (walk-on)
~Drew Winn — redshirt junior (walk-on)
~Landon Phipps — freshman (walk-on)
~John Paul Pickens — freshman (walk-on)
See More: Ranking the Room Series
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