FAYETTEVILLE — Spring practice will come to a close Saturday afternoon when the Arkansas football team hosts its annual Red-White scrimmage.
It will serve as the Razorbacks’ 15th and final practice allowed by the NCAA for spring ball and head coach Sam Pittman said he anticipates running about 104 total plays during a two-hour window beginning at noon CT. The event will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.
Arkansas will open up with a set of plays with the first-team offense facing the second-team defense and vice versa, but the rest of the day will feature “good-on-good” — meaning the 1s going up against the 1s, 2s against the 2s and 3s against the 3s.
There will be a couple sets of 9-12 plays for each of those matchups, as well as some situational work. That includes working on third downs from various distances, high- and low-red zone, two-minute drill and what Pittman calls “third-play-fourth,” where they’ll run a third-down play and then go for the ensuing fourth down.
The Razorbacks will do some special teams, but it will be limited to just one kickoff for all three units, two punts for each unit and nine total field goals.
Arkansas Positions to Watch
When asked about players making a move in spring ball on Tuesday, the first three names out of Sam Pittman’s mouth were Andrew Armstrong, Isaac TeSlaa and Isaiah Sategna.
All three of them play a position that was one of the biggest question marks entering the spring, as Arkansas football lost almost all of its wide receiver production from a year ago.
In terms of highlight reel plays, TeSlaa — a Division II transfer — has probably made the most during periods of practice open to the media. It sounds like that is also happening behind closed doors.
“He’s catching a lot of ‘wow’ balls,” Pittman said. “That separates receivers right there, is who can catch contested passes and who can catch the one that’s unbelievably hard to catch. He’s seemed to be able to do that.”
Armstrong is another transfer from a lower level, coming from the FCS ranks, and appears to have adjusted nicely at Arkansas, while Sategna is a former four-star recruit who redshirted last season, but seems to have positioned himself for a significant role in 2023. He always gets open at practice and has great hands.
Another transfer might also be in this conversation, but Tyrone Broden from Bowling Green has been limited for a chunk of spring because of a knee injury. However, he was back in team periods for the first time in a while Thursday afternoon. He is questionable for the spring game, but seems to be trending in a positive direction.
Other receivers who are in the mix to crack the rotation this season include redshirt sophomores Bryce Stephens and Jaedon Wilson, plus sophomore Sam Mbake. Wilson has missed most of spring because of injuries suffered in a car accident.
“We do feel comfortable with who is out there, but (if) you’re talking about a guy that can catch 700 or 1,000 yards or something like that, I don’t know that guy has yet identified himself,” Pittman said. “I’m not saying he’s not on the team. I just don’t know we know for sure.”
The Razorbacks are going to rush the passer this year. Sam Pittman came out and said that when he introduced his new defensive coordinator, Travis Williams, last December. Of course, in order to do that, they need some players capable of doing that.
Jordan Domineck bailed after initially saying he’d return, transferring to Colorado instead, but Arkansas did land Trajan Jeffcoat and John Morgan III from the portal. After seeing them in practice, Pittman said both of them are “hard to block.”
As exciting as it will be to see the two newcomers in the Red-White game, it might be a returner who catches fans’ attention the most based on what Pittman has said about Landon Jackson.
He told reporters that Jackson, a former four-star recruit who began his career at LSU, had his best day yet in the Razorbacks’ closed scrimmage a couple weeks ago. He has bulked up and is more confident in his knee now that he’s another year removed from his torn ACL.
“He was playing about three-quarter speed and he got a little bit better as the year went on,” Pittman said. “Now he’s bigger, confident, long. He’s a problem, now — a good problem. He’s on our team, but he’s a problem if you’re an offensive lineman.”
The defensive ends as a whole garnered much of the praise when Pittman talked about the last scrimmage, as they did an excellent job of getting after the quarterback.
In addition to Jeffcoat, Morgan and Jackson, the Razorbacks also have a trio of in-state prospects in super senior Zach Williams, senior Jashaud Stewart and sophomore Nico Davillier. All six could factor into the rotation this coming season.
“When you have three sets of guys who have similar and great abilities, you’re never going to get tired, so you can always play fast and you can always play strong,” Williams said. “You can always rely that the next person coming in is going to do their job and you can go in and do yours and they rely on you. It’s a good bond. I’ve never really had that experience before, but now that I have it, I kind of like it.”
Arkansas Football Players to Watch
TE Luke Hasz
No freshman has been singled out this spring more than Luke Hasz, the four-star tight end from Bixby, Okla. It helps that he plays a position lacking significant depth and needing someone to step up in wake of Trey Knox transferring out, but he has more than held his own at practice.
Listed at just 226 pounds, he’s still a little light for an SEC tight end and might struggle with the blocking aspect of the position, but it looks like he’ll be a weapon in the passing game.
Sam Pittman has said he usually catches three or four passes every practice and reporters have seen him make some pretty tough receptions. There are times when he’s wide open, which is a credit to him for the work to create separation, and he rarely drops anything.
QB Jacolby Criswell
Arkansas football desperately needed to improve its backup quarterback situation this offseason after going 0-2 in games without KJ Jefferson last year. It had such little confidence in its backups in 2022 that it played a clearly hampered Jefferson against Liberty, resulting in another loss.
Former backup Malik Hornsby has since transferred to Texas State and the Razorbacks went to the transfer portal to bring Jacolby Criswell home. The Morrilton native showed flashes at North Carolina and has also looked pretty good this spring.
It’s hard to make sweeping judgements based on practice, but Criswell looks like an upgrade over Hornsby and Arkansas has to feel better about its chances in the event of an injury to Jefferson.
OL Patrick Kutas
One of the biggest changes after Arkansas’ first spring scrimmage was on the offensive line, as Patrick Kutas shifted outside to right tackle. The sophomore had primarily played on the interior of the line prior to the move. After seeing his defensive ends consistently in the backfield during the scrimmage, though, Pittman decided something had to be done.
“I like him a lot,” Pittman said. “That’s what we recruited him as, a tackle, and of course we hadn’t needed him at that position, but we do now and I think we’re solidifying that area.”
Kutas might also be the backup center if something were to happen to Beaux Limmer, but it seems like he’s locked down the right tackle job for the time being because he’s been there with the first-team offense the last two weeks.
“He’s just strong as all get out,” defensive end Zach Williams said. “Once he gets his hands on you, there ain’t no coming off.”
CB Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson
Most transfers started the spring on the second or third unit because Sam Pittman likes to make them earn their way up the depth chart. The only one with the starters on Day 1 was Lorando Johnson, who goes by the nickname “Snaxx.”
That was mainly due to injuries at the position, as Quincey McAdoo and LaDarrius Bishop were banged up and missed the first part of spring ball. However, Johnson has took the opportunity to assert himself as a starter and hasn’t let go of the position even after the others returned to the field.
He has consistently made plays against wide receivers in one-on-one periods and looks like he’ll form a formidable cornerback duo with Dwight McGlothern, with McAdoo able to give each of them a break when needed.
DT Taurean Carter
Perhaps the best story of the spring has been the return of Taurean Carter. He was in the midst of a monster spring and appeared to be on the brink of a breakout season this time last year, but went down with a torn ACL early in the spring showcase.
Now entering his fifth year of college, Carter will hopefully get a chance to show off what reporters saw throughout last spring. The shift to a four-man front that utilizes two defensive tackles made his return that much more important, especially with Eric Gregory being limited some with a knee injury and Cam Ball currently being out with a high ankle sprain.
LB Antonio Grier
Bumper Pool is gone. So is Drew Sanders. Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry have been gone a couple years now. It’s truly a new era in the Arkansas linebacker room, but it appears the passed baton is in good hands.
The Razorbacks seem to have a star in the making in redshirt sophomore Chris “Pooh” Paul Jr. and sophomore Jordan Crook has also flashed, but it was vital for the Razorbacks to add a veteran presence to the group and they did that with Antonio Grier.
He’s making the jump from the AAC to the SEC, but should fit right in to the linebacker rotation. Saturday will be the first time to see what he looks like in a scrimmage setting at Arkansas.
More on Isaiah Sategna here:
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