Arkansas’ Most Intriguing New Transfer Is Turning a Corner + More Practice Notes

Anton Juncaj, Arkansas football
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — Among the 13 players Arkansas football added from the transfer portal this offseason, perhaps none are as intriguing as Anton Juncaj.

Making the jump from the FCS to the SEC, the former Albany defensive end is firmly in the Razorbacks’ rotation up front and has received most of his snaps with the second-team defense this spring.

With All-SEC defensive end Landon Jackson missing last Saturday’s scrimmage because of his wedding later that day, the door was open for Juncaj to get his first extended reps with the first unit — and he made the most of it.

There weren’t many sacks that day, but Juncaj did manage to get into the backfield a few times and was unofficially credited with four tackles — which is a lot at that position, especially considering each unit got only 30 or so live tackling snaps.

Upon watching the film, Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman said he really liked what he saw from the FCS All-American.

“I’ll tell you what he is, he plays extremely hard, but he’s very, very strong,” Pittman said. “Has good leverage, and obviously he set the record over there at I believe Albany, for a reason. We’re really glad he’s here, but he’s playing the run and pass.”

The last part of that statement by Pittman hasn’t always been the case.

Juncaj has displayed excellent pass rushing abilities since arriving on campus earlier this year, but that’s not exactly surprising because he led the FCS with 15 sacks in 15 games last season.

Those 15 sacks were part of his 55 total tackles, so he was also involved in stopping the run in 2023, but that was the area he struggled with the most early on this spring.

“I think he’s adjusting well,” defensive tackle Cam Ball said on March 26. “Anton is a physical freak. He’s a great person, too. Being in this conference, there’s more heavy run. So he’s still adjusting to more run than it was pass where he previously was, but he’s coming along just fine.”

Luckily for the Razorbacks, he’s shown some flashes of being able to defend the run better the last week or so, which could help him stay on the field more than if he’s just a pass-rush specialist.

Even if that’s where he ends up having his biggest impact, that’s not a bad thing for Arkansas because he’s really good at getting after the quarterback.

With him coming from the FCS ranks, there’s some concern that he won’t be as effective in the SEC, but teammate Landon Jackson pointed to the success of wide receiver Andrew Armstrong as a reason for those concerns being overblown.

After all, Armstrong was the team’s leading receiver last year, reeling in 56 passes for 764 yards and five touchdowns. The Razorbacks also had a successful FCS transfer a couple of years ago in defensive tackle John Ridgeway, who ended up being selected in the NFL Draft.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re having 15 sacks in high school football, you’re a dominant player,” Jackson said. “He had 15 in the FCS and (Armstrong) came from the FCS and you saw how good he was. There’s a difference overall as a team within conferences, but if a player can do that in the FCS, I can promise you he can play at this level, as well.”

Speaking of Armstrong, he was a full participant in Tuesday’s practice for the first time since pulling his hamstring a couple of weeks ago.

Expected to be one of the Razorbacks’ top targets, he had been limited to individual drills the last few practices, but was back in the team periods on Day 12 and once again catching passes from quarterback Taylen Green. He looked great running routes and didn’t seem to be hampered at all Tuesday morning.

Day 12 Arkansas Spring Practice Observations

Here are a few other observations and tidbits from the Razorbacks’ 12th day of spring ball…

  • Late in the practice, a fight broke out when Ja’Quinden Jackson tried stretching a run to the outside and was pushed out of bounds. The practice was inside Walker Pavilion, so he crashed into the padded wall, and some offensive players took exception to it, leading to the scuffle. Punches were thrown by multiple players, but order was restored relatively quickly and practice resumed without incident.
  • Here’s what Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman said about the fight after practice: “Obviously you don’t want anything to ever escalate to that point. We had a good talk with the team afterwards about what’s acceptable and what’s not. But it was just the two guys got tangled up on the sideline and I believe one side thought it was more than that. And it escalated into something that it shouldn’t have. But I think our team is a very together team. I think it was obviously at the end of practice and we had practiced really hard and things escalated there. But we stopped it fairly fast.”
  • The same players that have been in green non-contact jerseys were still in green Tuesday: running back Rashod Dubinion, tight end Ty Washington and linebacker Justin Logan.
  • Armstrong’s return is especially good news considering the status of several other wide receivers. Jaedon Wilson has been battling a shoulder injury and was still held out of team periods Tuesday. It’s unknown if he’ll be back for the spring game this Saturday. Tyrone Broden was still absent because of a family issue and Pittman said it’s a fluid situation when it comes to whether or not he’ll be back for the spring game. Pittman didn’t have an update on Davion Dozier either. He left Tuesday’s practice with a hand injury and didn’t return.

  • On the defensive side of the ball, the Razorbacks were without cornerbacks Marquise Robinson and Jaheim Singletary. Robinson has been out for several practices, but this was the first time Singletary was spotted as a non-participant. Pittman indicated Singletary has a chance to get back in time for the spring game, but Robinson will remain out. Defensive tackle Ian Geffrard is dealing with a pulled hamstring, but is expected to be full-go Thursday.
  • Keivie Rose got work with the first-team defense, replacing Eric Gregory as the second starting defensive tackle alongside Cam Ball.
  • At one point during a team period early in practice, true freshman Jaden Allen got some snaps at cornerback with the first-team defense. Florida transfer Miguel Mitchell also did, but neither of them were permanent first-teamers.
  • The Razorbacks mixed things up some on offense, too, with Amaury Wiggins getting some work with the first-team offensive line at center. That led to Addison Nichols getting some second-team reps, which didn’t go particularly well. He had some bad snaps and Pittman credited it to the differences in cadence by the backup quarterbacks. It was a learning moment for the staff, as they now know Nichols needs some extra work with the backup quarterbacks to get comfortable with them.
  • Texas A&M transfer Jordan Anthony hasn’t had a great spring, primarily struggling with catching the ball, but he seemed to have a good day Tuesday. He did have one drop, but also made a lot of catches down the field – all while playing with the first, second and third units at various points during practice.
  • Fellow slot receiver and speedster Isaiah Sategna also had a drop, but he more than made up for it with some really impressive catches. He easily has the better set of hands when it comes to him and Anthony. 

  • There was a good coaching moment for tight end Shamar Easter during 7-on-7. He made a nice catch down the field, but Hudson Clark managed to punch it out for a fumble. That’s because he had the ball in his inside arm, rather than the outside arm. After the play, both Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman and offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino talked to him about it.
  • One of the highlights of the day was Isaac TeSlaa making a one-handed catch on a deep ball down the middle of the field from Taylen Green. The ball was thrown on the money 40-plus yards down field and TeSlaa made a tremendous catch.
  • There weren’t any interceptions Tuesday, but cornerback Kee’yon Stewart dropped one that hit him in the hands thrown by Taylen Green.
  • Practice ended with a two-minute drill in which there were 42 seconds left and the offense had the ball at its own 40 with one timeout and needing a field goal. Here’s how it went:
    • 1s: Green’s first two passes fell incomplete, as Jaylon Braxton broke up one intended for Armstrong and then he overthrew Sategna. He hit Armstrong over the middle on third down, but he was short of the sticks, so they had to burn their timeout. On fourth down, Green hit Armstrong again, this time for a 20-yard gain. His next throw fell incomplete to stop the clock with 16 seconds left. On the next play, though, a bad snap forced Green to scramble. He was tagged down either at the line of scrimmage or for a small loss, but he had to hustle and spike the ball, which he did with 3 seconds left. Vito Calvaruso came out and drilled a 50-yard field goal.
    • 2s: Malachi Singleton got 19 yards out of a dump off pass to Braylen Russell to start the drive. He then scrambled for 5 yards, which was immediately wiped out when Alex Sanford came on a rush and sacked him. That forced the offense to burn its timeout with 15 seconds left. Singleton’s next two passes were incomplete, leading to a turnover on downs.
    • 3s: KJ Jackson completed a couple of short passes to move the chains before a pass to Dominique Johnson fell incomplete with 15 seconds left. On the next play, Jackson scrambled for 12 yards and then spiked the ball. In a real game, the offense likely would have been penalized for not having everyone set. Instead, they sent Matthew Shipley out for a 57-yard try and he just barely got it over the crossbar for the field goal.
  • It was a pretty good day for the kickers, who have been pretty inconsistent through the spring. Calvaruso barely missed a 29-yard attempt wide right, but he did make kicks from 20, 35 and 41 yards, in addition to the 50-yarder that capped a two-minute drill. On top of his 57-yarder, Shipley drilled all three of his other attempts, which were from 29, 35 and 41 yards.

Sam Pittman Interview

Reporters met with Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman for about 28 minutes following Tuesday’s practice. You can watch the full press conference here:

YouTube video


More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS… 

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