This isn’t the first time Dan Enos and Sam Pittman have been on a staff together with Arkansas football, but the hierarchy has flipped from eight years ago.
While Enos is once again the Razorbacks’ offensive coordinator, Pittman is now the boss, as he’s going into his fourth season as head coach. When they worked together before, on the 2015 staff under Bret Bielema, Pittman was the offensive line coach whose philosophies sometimes clashed with Enos.
“He was very — I probably shouldn’t say this, I might get fired — but he was stubborn a little bit, too, when I first got here about some things,” Enos said jokingly in an interview with Hogs+ during the spring. “Not in a bad way… But very particular about how we did things, and we had some great talks and how he protected and how the run game (worked) and then we meshed it and it was great.”
Standout Year for Arkansas Football
What ultimately happened with that year’s offense can certainly be described as “great.” The Razorbacks averaged 6.8 yards per play — the second-best mark in school history, behind only the 2010 team (7.1) — and 35.9 points while going 8-5.
As Arkansas football fans will remember, it was a little rocky at first — we won’t mention that 16-12 loss to Toledo (oops) — but once that team got rolling, it was a force to be reckoned with.
With KJ Jefferson and Rocket Sanders back as arguably the best 1-2 punch in the SEC, if not the country, the Razorbacks hope they can rekindle some of that offensive magic. Of course, they’d also like to avoid the early struggles of that 2015 squad.
For that to happen, Arkansas needs a strong fall camp to ensure that an offense built for a Kendal Briles system can operate smoothly under Enos from the jump. Spring ball was big in that regard, but these practices leading up to the season will also be vital.
How well Enos and Pittman mesh this time around is just one of several questions Best of Arkansas Sports has ahead of fall camp, which begins Friday. Here are five others…
1. Who will emerge as KJ Jefferson’s top pass catchers?
KJ Jefferson is a bonafide superstar, but if he’s going to reach his full potential in 2023, the Razorbacks need some wide receivers and/or tight ends to step up in the passing game.
Thanks to graduation, the NFL Draft and the transfer portal, Arkansas had to replace its top five players at those two positions. Sam Pittman brought in several touted transfers who are expected to make an immediate impact, but all of them will be making a jump up in level of competition.
At wide receiver, Isaac TeSlaa and Andrew Armstrong signed with Division II schools out of high school, with the latter actually playing in the FCS last season, while Tyrone Broden is transferring up from the MAC. The tight end group also added a transfer from the Group of Five in Var’Keyes Gumms from North Texas.
All four could be big factors in the passing game, with TeSlaa and Armstrong making the best impression during the spring, but Gumms wasn’t here yet and Broden missed time with an injury. Then there’s Luke Hasz and Shamar Easter as incoming freshmen tight ends. Hasz might be the closest to contributing because he went through spring ball and drew consistent praise from the coaches and his teammates.
Of course, there’s also a great chance Jefferson’s go-to receiver isn’t a newcomer. Isaiah Sategna looks primed for a breakout redshirt freshman season, plus they return Bryce Stephens, Jaedon Wilson and Sam Mbake at wide receiver and Nathan Bax and Ty Washington at tight end.
2. How will the newcomers slot in on the Arkansas football depth chart?
The Razorbacks signed 22 traditional recruits — 21 from the high school ranks and one JUCO transfer — in the 2023 class, plus added 18 scholarship players from the transfer portal. That’s a whopping 40 newcomers, not including walk-ons.
Many of them were early enrollees who got to go through spring ball, but some of them didn’t get to Fayetteville until this summer and fall camp will be their first practices in an Arkansas football uniform. That will give them about a month to make an impression on the coaching staff and establish their position on the depth chart ahead of the Sept. 2 opener.
On the transfer side of things, cornerback Jaheim Singletary might have the most fanfare considering he was a former five-star recruit who originally signed with Georgia. He is just one of several defensive backs entering the mix this fall, though. More on them below.
To reiterate, Var’keyes Gumms could push for serious playing time at tight end, but Arkansas also landed lightly used tight end Francis Sherman from Louisville. The rest of the summer arrivals via the portal are on defense, with defensive tackles Anthony Booker Jr. (Maryland) and Keivie Rose (Louisiana Tech) being arguably the most important considering the Razorbacks’ shift to a four-man front. Jaheim Thomas from Cincinnati could factor into the rotation at linebacker and even push for a starting spot, as well.
Nine freshmen will be practicing for the first time this fall and the two who might have the best chance at making an early impact are running back Isaiah Augustave and tight end Shamar Easter. Both have their work cut out for them, though, as running back might be the deepest position on the team. Easter will be battling with Luke Hasz, who was here in the spring, and Gumms.
3. What will the secondary look like by the Sept. 2 opener?
The secondary was a disaster for Arkansas football last season. Seven different contributors missed time with injuries and the unit was one of the worst in college football, ranking dead last in pass defense. Understandably, the position underwent quite the transformation this offseason.
The Razorbacks do have a couple of key returners in Dwight McGlothern and Hudson Clark, though. McGlothern is a preseason All-SEC cornerback, while Clark is an experienced veteran who seemed to take to the safety position nicely when he moved there midseason. They will almost certainly be starters, but the rest of the secondary is a mystery, largely due to players not being on campus yet in the spring.
Among those who were, Baylor transfer Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson appears to be the biggest lock to start — especially after Quincey McAdoo’s car accident that will likely cause him to miss the season. He could start opposite McGlothern at cornerback or play nickel.
Another possibility at nickel is fellow Baylor transfer Alfahiym Walcott. He was with the team, but missed all of spring ball because of an injury. His health is a major key for the Razorbacks, as Walcott was an All-Big 12 safety for the Bears in 2022 and figures to factor into the starting lineup somewhere.
If those four guys start, that leaves only one spot up for grabs in fall camp — either at safety, corner or nickel, depending on where Walcott and Johnson end up.
The top options include returning players like Jayden Johnson (safety/nickel), LaDarrius Bishop (corner/nickel), Malik Chavis (all three) and Jaylen Lewis (nickel), as well as incoming transfers like Jaheim Singletary (Georgia), Kee’yon Stewart (TCU) and AJ Brathwaite Jr. (Western Kentucky). It’s also possible that one of the four aforementioned starters gets beat out by one of those players.
4. How do the running back reps get split up behind Rocket Sanders?
As good as KJ Jefferson, Dwight McGlothern and Brady Latham are, they were preseason second-team All-SEC selections by the media. The Razorbacks’ lone first-team selection was running back Rocket Sanders – and he’s certainly deserving.
If Sanders replicates last season’s rushing total of 1,443 yards ( and 10 touchdowns to go with 28 receptions for 271 yards and two scores to boot), he’d rank fourth on the UA’s all-time list. Yes, that’s easier said that done. Still, unlike this time last year, there’s no doubt he’s the No. 1 option at running back going into fall camp.
Question marks remain behind him on the depth chart. Running back may be the deepest position on the team, with four or five legitimate SEC backs. They’re probably not all just as good as Sanders, but they’re more than capable of giving him some breathers in games or even filling in if there’s an injury.
That said, there’s not a clear No. 2. AJ Green and Rashod Dubinion split the backup duties last year and both are back this season. Dominique Johnson is also back in the fold after missing most of last year with a twice-torn ACL. He actually ended the 2021 season as the starter, ahead of Sanders, and Pittman recently revealed he’s been cleared for fall camp.
Then throw in Isaiah Augustave, who comes to Fayetteville as a heralded four-star recruit. This 6’2″, 208 pound freshman is very good, as evidenced by his 247Sports rating as the No. 6 running back in the country and the No. 38 player in Florida. On top of that, he went for 950 yards on 109 carries (8.7 avg) and 16 touchdowns. Then, as a senior, Augustave rushed 110 times for 1,061 yards (9.6 avg) and 11 touchdowns.
Still, getting significant carries in this backfield as a true freshman is usually difficult, unless he pulls an Alex Collins or D-Mac and just blows all the other potential No. 2’s away in fall camp.
5. Has Max Fletcher taken that next step as a sophomore?
Yes, we’re writing about the punter. KJ Jefferson and Rocket Sanders could be All-Americans in 2023 and Arkansas will still need to punt at least a little bit. When that happens, it’d help if the Razorbacks had someone who could flip the field or at least prevent long returns with well-placed punts.
They thought they found that person last offseason with Max Fletcher, a former Aussie Rules Football player from Australia. He certainly has an SEC-caliber leg, but was wildly inconsistent early on last season and was ultimately beat out by the veteran, Reid Bauer.
With Bauer transferring to Memphis for his final year of eligibility, the job is Fletcher’s – whether he’s ready or not. The hope, though, is that he’ll settle down and look more like he does in practice when game time rolls around. After all, last year was the first time he had played true football, with live action going on around him.
If he can take that next step as a sophomore, Arkansas could have a weapon in the punting game – much like Fletcher’s brother, Mason, at Cincinnati. If he doesn’t, he could be a liability. The potential is there, it’s just up to him, Pittman and special teams coordinator Scott Fountain to unlock it.
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…