FAYETTEVILLE — Through six spring practices, the Arkansas football depth charts from day to day have been like snowflakes: no two are alike.
That is not an accident or necessarily indicative of players making a move, but rather a directive from head coach Sam Pittman. He has always had “combo” periods in which he mixes the first- and second-team units, but he’s taken it a step further this year and made sure the first unit is different each day.
“We’re kind of doing that everyday,” Pittman said. “Basically, so you’ll know, I’ve told our coaches to have somebody new in the starting lineup every single day at their position, except for KJ Jefferson.”
The reasoning behind that strategy is threefold.
First of all, the Razorbacks got a taste of mixed lineups in real games last year because of a large number of injuries. At one point, they were down five or six contributors in the secondary and the pass defense struggled mightily as a result. It probably wasn’t great to begin with, but having so many backups and third-teamers play as many reps as they did likely contributed to it finishing dead last in the FBS.
“I think it first came up in my mind when we had injuries last year,” Pittman said. “At some positions we were ready for that, and some we weren’t.”
Secondly, the 2023 season doesn’t begin until Sept. 2, when Arkansas hosts Western Carolina at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. That gives Pittman and his assistants plenty of time to experiment and figure out who is ready to play, so there’s no rush to finalize a starting unit.
“Have you ever noticed that you’ve got a 2 and he’s playing against a 2 and he’s kicking the other guy’s behind, and you put him with a 1 and he’s not doing anything?” Pittman said. “You’re going, ‘Man, this guy ought to be starting.’ Well, he never played against your top competition, so I think a little bit of that is helping us find out exactly who our real good players are and who we need to continue to develop.”
Finally, in today’s era of college football, Pittman is also concerned with the transfer portal. By constantly moving players around on the depth chart, he keeps them engaged and hopeful they’ll be able to play when the season rolls around rather than looking elsewhere for that chance.
While players have transferred out during and after spring in the past, such as Lucas Coley last year, this is the first year of the portal “windows.” The Razorbacks already led the FBS, along with Texas A&M, in transfers during the first window and Pittman is attempting to avoid another mass exodus in the second window.
“Part of it is, the damn portal opens up April 15, too,” Pittman said. “You start setting deadlines on who is 1 and all of that in spring ball and you start getting guys going in the portal. They don’t feel like they have a chance to win that position.”
Check out how the depth chart looked during the open portion of Tuesday’s practice below.
Sam Pittman’s Early Impressions
A week off for spring break gave Sam Pittman an opportunity to review film and reflect on the Razorbacks’ first five practices. That is just one-third of spring ball, but he’s already developed some thoughts on his squad.
“I think the thing that stuck out the most was our defensive end play,” Pittman said. I think we have guys that we can be in a four-down rush and they can get to the quarterback. We also have a little bit more size there. Adding (Trajan) Jeffcoat there really has been a big addition for the D-line and certainly John Morgan is a pass-rushing guy that has made a lot of plays. I think that would be the No. 1 thing.”
Among the early enrollees, linebacker Carson Dean — a four-star prospect out of Hebron High School in Texas — was the first guy Pittman singled out.
Even though the Razorbacks seem to have a pretty solid top three in Chris Paul Jr., Antonio Grier and Jordan Crook, not to mention Mani Powell who played significant reps on special teams last year, Pittman said he believes Dean could crack the rotation and will contribute as a true freshman.
“He’s faster than what I thought he was when he came in and he’s really picked it up,” Pittman said. “He’s played with the 1s some and certainly is a guy that has the size. That’s usually what keeps (freshmen from playing), either they don’t know the defense or they’re not strong enough or big enough to play early in their career, and none of those is necessarily a detriment to him.”
On the other side of the ball, Luke Hasz — a four-star tight end from Bixby, Okla. — has continually earned praise from the head coach and that was the case Tuesday, too.
“He doesn’t have the biggest stature, he’s not the biggest tight end, but he’s willing and he’s capable,” Pittman said. “We have to continue working that with him, but he’s a really good route runner, he’s exceptional catching the football and when he has it in his hand he’s hard to tackle. It just seems like every day he has 6, 8, 10 catches in some type of team setting. He gets open and catches everything that’s close to him.”
Arkansas Football Depth Chart
Here is how the Razorbacks lined up during a team period open to reporters Tuesday afternoon…
(Click here for the depth chart from Arkansas’ fourth practice of the spring.)
|QB||KJ Jefferson||Cade Fortin||Jacolby Criswell|
|RB||Rocket Sanders||AJ Green||Rashod Dubinion|
|TE||Nathan Bax||Tyrus Washington||Luke Hasz|
|WR||Sam Mbake||Andrew Armstrong||*Marlon Crockett|
|WR||Bryce Stephens||Isaiah Sategna||*Chris Harris|
|WR||Isaac TeSlaa||Landon Rogers||*Kalil Girault|
|LT||Devon Manuel||Andrew Chamblee||Cole Carson|
|LG||Brady Latham||*Josh Street||*Payton Simpson|
|C||Beaux Limmer||Patrick Kutas||Eli Henderson|
|RG||Joshua Braun||*Brooks Edmonson||Paris Patterson|
|RT||E’Marion Harris||Ty’Kieast Crawford||*Tommy Varhall|
|DE||Jashaud Stewart||Trajan Jeffcoat||Nico Davillier|
|DT||Taurean Carter||Marcus Miller||*Richard Jameson|
|DT||Cameron Ball||*Kyle Thompson||JJ Hollingsworth|
|DE||Landon Jackson||Zach Williams||John Morgan III|
|LB||Chris Paul Jr.||Jordan Crook||Carson Dean|
|LB||Antonio Grier||Mani Powell||Kaden Henley|
|NB||Hudson Clark||Jaylen Lewis||*Courtney Snelling|
|CB||Lorando Johnson||Quincey McAdoo||*Aidan McCowan|
|S||Jayden Johnson||RJ Johnson||Dylan Hasz|
|S||Malik Chavis||TJ Metcalf||*Braylon Watson|
|CB||Dwight McGlothern||Jaylon Braxton||*Landon Phipps|
Arkansas Football Injury Report
Here’s a rundown of several Arkansas football players currently dealing with injuries…
- WR Tyrone Broden (knee): Collided with a teammate in the last practice before spring break and was not dressed out Tuesday with what Pittman described as a “slight knee sprain”… He could potentially return in a limited role Thursday, but the hope is to have him ready for Saturday’s scrimmage
- LB Brad Spence (undisclosed): Also not dressed out Tuesday, but Pittman is hopeful he’ll be back for Saturday’s scrimmage, as well
- RB Rashod Dubinion (undisclosed): Wore a green non-contact jersey in Tuesday’s practice
- DB Quincey McAdoo (undisclosed): Returned to practice Tuesday after missing the first five practices of spring with an undisclosed injury
- DB LaDarrius Bishop (knee): Returned to practice Tuesday in a limited role after being out since September with a torn ACL suffered in Week 2 of the season… Will work back into things slowly, so probably won’t scrimmage Saturday, but Pittman is hopeful he’ll be full speed by the Red-White spring game
- WR Jaedon Wilson (tibia): Out for the rest of spring after suffering a cracked tibia in a car accident earlier this month
- RB Dominique Johnson (ACL): Won’t be ready until after spring ball, but Arkansas has been optimistic that he’ll be ready to go for fall camp
- QB Kade Renfro (ACL): Has been able to throw passes in practice, but still recovering from a second torn ACL suffered early last season
- DB Alfahiym Walcott (undisclosed): Won’t be cleared until this summer, should be good to go for fall camp
- OL Luke Brown (knee): Won’t be cleared until this summer, should be good to go for fall camp
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…