A Cautious Step Toward 100% at Critical Position & Other Arkansas Football Insights

Dominique Johnson, Arkansas football
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — An already deep running back room for Arkansas football could be getting close to adding another piece.

For the first time since tearing his ACL in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day, Dominique Johnson was back on the practice field Monday afternoon for the Razorbacks.

It was an expected move, as head coach Sam Pittman told reporters that was the plan following Saturday’s scrimmage, and he was clearly far from 100 percent, but it was still an encouraging sight.

Johnson was in a green non-contact jersey and wore a large brace on his right leg. He didn’t participate in the team period seen by the media and even did work off to the side during a drill in which the quarterbacks and running backs worked on the timing of an option pitch.

However, the junior from Crowley, Texas, did get involved in some drills that just required taking a handoff from a graduate assistant, running between or around some bags on the ground and finally stiff-arming a helmet on a stick.

Despite not being close to full speed, Johnson didn’t seem to be favoring the leg, but he’s probably still building up confidence in his knee. Running backs coach Jimmy Smith even shouted encouragement during one rep, telling him, “It won’t hurt your ACL, I promise!”

The timeline for Johnson’s full return is not yet known, but Pittman previously said he expects him to miss the season opener against Cincinnati on Sept. 3. That would mean the earliest he could return is the following week against South Carolina – but even that is not certain.

As things currently stand, Rocket Sanders is the Razorbacks’ top running back, followed by AJ Green and Rashod Dubinion. Exactly where Johnson would slot in remains to be seen, but he ended last year as the starter.

Check out some clips of Dominique Johnson on his first day back at practice:

Other Arkansas Football Practice Observations

Here are a few other takeaways from the 20 or so minutes of Monday’s practice that were open to the media…

  • During a team period in which each unit — the starters, backups and third-stringers — played four snaps, quarterback KJ Jefferson looked sharp, completing all three of his passes to Trey Knox, Jadon Haselwood and Rocket Sanders. The completion to Knox went for the largest gain and it was over the middle of the field.
  • Also during that segment of practice, junior Khari Johnson was the second cornerback working opposite Hudson Clark on the first-team defense. That comes just two days after a scrimmage in which LaDarrius Bishop started. However, it could have just been an opportunity for the coaches to see how he did with the starters.
  • The one cornerback who has yet to be seen getting first- or even second-team snaps during the portions of practice open to the media is LSU transfer Dwight McGlothern. After working his way into the first unit back in the spring, he’s been relegated to the third team, based on what reporters have seen.
  • Another position that has flipped back and forth is the second-team slot receiver. Haselwood is the clear starter, but Isaiah Sategna and Bryce Stephens are still battling for the backup job — and potentially the last spot in the main rotation. On Monday, Stephens got reps with the second unit, but it was Sategna who hauled in a pass for a nice gain of 10-plus yards with the third unit.
  • It was the first day of classes at the UA, so the roster expanded from the 110 players allowed during fall camp to the full roster. The only uninjured scholarship player left off the 110-man roster was redshirt freshman Chase Lowery. He was at Monday’s practice, but has moved from cornerback to wide receiver. He now wears jersey No. 87.

Check out what defensive tackle Terry Hampton and right guard Beaux Limmer had to say following Monday’s practice:

Arkansas Football Injury Report

Here are a few injury notes on the Razorbacks based on what was observed at practice and comments made by head coach Sam Pittman…

  • [NEW] As mentioned above, running back Dominique Johnson returned to the practice field in a green non-contact jersey, so he was limited to only individual drills. He is working his way back from a torn ACL suffered in the Outback Bowl.
  • [NEW] Wide receiver Jaedon Wilson missed a few practices last week and Saturday’s scrimmage because of an injury to the AC joint in his shoulder. He was back at practice Monday in a green non-contact jersey.
  • [NEW] Pittman told reporters that center Ricky Stromberg hyperextended his elbow during Saturday’s scrimmage, but he appeared to be full-go in Monday’s practice.
  • [NEW] Walk-on quarterback Kade Renfro was back at practice and throwing passes. He was left off the 110-man roster because he is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in bowl prep last December.
  • The only other Arkansas player in green Monday afternoon was offensive lineman Marcus Henderson. Pittman said after Saturday’s scrimmage that the hope is he’ll start doing individual drills soon, but he was still limited to work with a graduate assistant on the sideline.
  • Offensive linemen Devon Manuel (undisclosed) and Josh Street (ankle) who had been on the second team before getting hurt, still weren’t at practice. Pittman has indicated they should return by Week 1.
  • Defensive tackle Marcus Miller (knee) was eligible to rejoin the team because the roster limitations were removed, but he is believed to still be a couple days away from returning.

More Preseason Accolades for Arkansas Football

With real games less than a week away for some schools, we are well past the “Watch List Season” portion of the offseason, but a pair of Razorbacks still picked up more honors Monday morning.

The most notable accolade was safety Jalen Catalon landing on the Associated Press Preseason All-America Team. He was tabbed to the second team alongside Notre Dame’s Brandon Joseph and behind the SEC first-team duo of Jordan Battle from Alabama and Antonio Johnson from Texas A&M.

They were among 16 players from the conference named to either of the AP’s All-America teams.

Quarterback KJ Jefferson was the other Arkansas player recognized Monday, as he was one of 30 players selected for the watch list of the Manning Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top quarterback.

Big Bump for Razorbacks in Final Preseason SP+ Ratings

Arkansas football is widely viewed as a top-25 team entering the 2022 season, checking in at No. 19 and No. 23 in the preseason AP and USA Today Coaches Polls, respectively.

One ranking not as high on the Razorbacks, though, was Bill Connelly’s SP+ ratings on ESPN. The analytics-driven system spits out projections based on several factors, namely returning production, recruiting success and recent history.

Back in May, Arkansas was sitting at No. 26 in Connelly’s post-spring update to the preseason SP+. Fast forward three months, he has tweaked his formula and accounted for injuries and additional transfers. That has resulted in the Razorbacks shooting up to No. 14 in his final preseason ratings.

According to the SP+, Arkansas has the 22nd-best offense and 18th-best defense in college football. It is one of only nine schools in the top 25 on both sides of the ball. However, the Razorbacks have an incredibly difficult schedule, so they are projected to win just 7 total games and 4.1 SEC games.

Those totals could swing wildly one way or the other, as the SP+ ratings have eight of Arkansas’ 12 games projected to be one-score games. That is tied with Baylor, Kansas State, Northern Illinois, Oregon State, TCU and Western Michigan for the most in the country.

ESPN’s Preseason Bowl Projections for Arkansas Football

Over the last several years, the conversation surrounding Arkansas football has been whether or not the Razorbacks will win enough games to reach bowl eligibility. Things have ticked up a notch going into 2022, as now the question is not *IF* they go to a bowl, but *WHICH* bowl they’ll play in.

A pair of ESPN reporters have released their latest projections and they have Arkansas in two different bowl games with vastly different storylines.

Kyle Bonagura has the Razorbacks going to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis and facing TCU on Dec. 28. That would be a matchup of the two teams that were supposed to play in the Texas Bowl following the 2020 season before COVID-19 issues within the Horned Frogs’ program led to it being canceled.

Mark Schlabach has the Razorbacks going back to Tampa, Fla., for what is now called the ReliaQuest Bowl instead of the Outback Bowl and facing Wisconsin on Jan. 2. That would be a rematch of the Capital One Bowl following the 2006 season, which pit Darren McFadden against Bret Bielema.

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