FAYETTEVILLE — One of the biggest depth chart questions Arkansas football must answer during fall camp is how to piece together the back end of its defense.
Coming off a season in which they ranked dead last nationally in pass defense, the Razorbacks completely overhauled their secondary with double-digit departures and double-digit newcomers.
In typical coach speak, head coach Sam Pittman and defensive backs coach Deron Wilson have each said the goal is to figure out the five best defensive backs and arrange them accordingly — which could mean some shuffling between cornerbacks, safeties and nickels.
It’s still early, but reporters got a glimpse of what that could mean on Day 6 of camp Thursday morning, which was Arkansas’ first day of full pads.
For the first time this fall, Lorando Johnson — who goes by “Snaxx” — was spotted running as the first-team nickel, or “Hog” position, during Arkansas’ “fastball starts” period of practice. This is a move the coaches have hinted at and a look they even tried some during spring ball.
“We do believe we have four-plus corners we can win with,” Pittman said. “If we believe that, certainly Snaxx moving into the Hog position might be valuable to the team. We’ll have to wait and see. I want to make sure we have the corners first.”
The Baylor transfer had a solid spring and seemed to lock down a starting spot somewhere in the secondary, with cornerback looking most likely after a car accident left Quincey McAdoo’s status for 2023 up in the air.
However, the Razorbacks brought in a couple of other corners, including former five-star recruit Jaheim Singletary from Georgia and former starter Kee’yon Stewart from TCU, making Johnson’s move to nickel easier.
Singletary worked with the first-team defense on Thursday and has drawn praise from Wilson for his work so far in camp.
As always, though, you can’t put too much stock in how the Razorbacks line up during that “fastball starts” period because they’re always mixing things up to get different looks on the various units. For example, preseason All-SEC selection Dwight McGlothern was with the second-team defense on Thursday, allowing four-star freshman Jaylon Braxton to work with the first team.
“We’re a long way out with trying to determine (the starters),” Pittman said. “I think our guys will sometimes go with the ones, sometimes with the twos.”
Another player competing for playing time at cornerback is LaDarrius Bishop, who missed most of last season because of a torn ACL. He had been slotted to work with the first unit Thursday, but was hampered by a toe infection.
Other Arkansas Football Practice Observations
Here are a few other tidbits from the approximately 20 minutes of practice open to the media…
- The first-team offense got the better of the defense in the “fastball starts” period, highlighted by a couple of really nice throws by KJ Jefferson. Tight end Luke Hasz made a tough catch on the sideline and Andrew Armstrong also reeled in a pass in traffic.
- They weren’t super consistent, but both Jacolby Criswell and Cade Fortin made some solid throws Thursday. Criswell was particularly sharp in a 3-on-3 period, connecting with freshman Dazmin James on a deep ball and hitting tight windows on throws to Isaac TeSlaa and Tyrone Broden. Fortin hit deep passes to Isaiah Sategna and Sam Mbake, but overthrew Davion Dozier. “Jacolby Criswell is one heck of a quarterback and so is Fortin,” Pittman said. “Criswell has an elite, special arm and he can fly. They’ve both done a nice job.”
- Speaking of Mbake, he beat Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson on his deep ball and has flashed several times throughout camp. “Heck yeah he’s going to be able to help us,” Pittman said. “I mean, Mbake is a wonderful person and he plays 90 mph all the time and it’s important to him. He has improved in every aspect of his game — speed, strength, awareness of what he’s doing.”
- JUCO transfer Amaury Wiggins missed a couple practices early in camp because of an injury, but appeared to be full go Thursday and was working as the second-team center — a job Pittman is hoping he’ll lock down in camp. “Amaury Wiggins is a guy that I think he’s going to end up being, at the least, our backup center,” Pittman said. “Man, that helps us big-time, to be able to leave Kutas out at tackle.”
- After the media viewing period, the Razorbacks did quite a bit of situational work, including third-and-1 and goal-line situations and two-point conversions.
Pittman Singles Out Brad Spence
He may not have been the most heralded of Arkansas’ 2023 signees, but Sam Pittman went out of his way to heap praise upon linebacker Brad Spence on Thursday.
“Spence makes plays every day,” Pittman said. “As a matter of fact, and I’m not great at singling out one guy, but I did single him out after practice today because it seemed like he was all over the field.”
Although he was a midyear enrollee who went through spring ball, Spence wasn’t mentioned nearly as much as fellow freshman Carson Dean.
However, Pittman said he built up a lot of confidence through the weight room this summer and it’s translated to the field.
“He makes plays all the time and he can really run,” Pittman said. “He made a play today, it’s not sideline to sideline, but one hash all the way to out of bounds on the other hash. That’s hard to do for anybody, but he did it.”
His emergence is a big reason why Pittman feels much better about his linebacker depth now than he did a week ago.
He probably knew what he had in Chris “Pooh” Paul Jr. and Jordan Crook coming back, as well as South Florida transfer Antonio Grier after spring ball. That’s only three, however. Since then, the Razorbacks added Jaheim Thomas from Cincinnati, but he was limited with an undisclosed injury during the summer.
He is coming on nicely, Pittman said, as well as sophomore Mani Powell and freshman Alex Sanford, who was a summer enrollee.
“I’ll be honest with you guys, my biggest concern was linebacker depth coming in,” Pittman said. “I believe with Spence and Sanford coming on, along with Mani Powell, I think we’re going to be fine at linebacker.”
Arkansas Football Injury Report
The most notable injuries from practice were all to defensive linemen — two defensive ends and two defensive tackles. None of them, though, are believed to be serious,
In the middle, Louisiana Tech transfer Keivie Rose was not dressed out from the start as he’s dealing with an ankle injury and Maryland transfer Anthony “Tank” Booker Jr. was in shorts because he missed some time with a knee injury.
At defensive end, both Jashaud Stewart and John Morgan III were spotted without their shoulder pads on as the media’s viewing period concluded. Stewart hurt the back of his heel, while Morgan is dealing with a lower leg injury.
Pittman added that some of them, like Stewart, could be back Friday and all of them should be back by Monday at the latest.
It’s also worth noting that freshman offensive lineman Joey Su’a wasn’t seen at practice and is believed to be dealing with an injury.
Arkansas Football Press Conferences – Day 6
Arkansas Football Depth Chart – Day 6
NOTE: This is based on how the Razorbacks lined up during a brief team period during the media viewing session. It doesn’t necessarily reflect how the depth chart actually stands now.
|QB||KJ Jefferson||Jacolby Criswell||Cade Fortin|
|RB||Rocket Sanders||AJ Green||Rashod Dubinion|
|WR||Sam Mbake||Tyrone Broden||Marlon Crockett|
|WR||Andrew Armstrong||Isaac TeSlaa||Chris Rhodes|
|SLOT||Isaiah Sategna||Bryce Stephens||Chris Harris|
|TE||Luke Hasz||Ty Washington||Nathan Bax|
|LT||Devon Manuel||Andrew Chamblee||Luke Brown|
|LG||Brady Latham||Josh Street||Paris Patterson|
|C||Beaux Limmer||Amaury Wiggins||Brooks Edmonson|
|RG||Joshua Braun||Ty’Kieast Crawford||Tommy Varhall|
|RT||Patrick Kutas||E’Marion Harris||Aaron Smith|
|DE||Jashaud Stewart||Trajan Jeffcoat||Nico Davillier|
|DT||Taurean Carter||Anthony Booker Jr.||Ian Geffrard|
|DT||Cameron Ball||Eric Gregory||Marcus Miller|
|DE||Landon Jackson||Zach Williams||Quincy Rhodes|
|LB||Chris Paul Jr.||Jaheim Thomas||Brooks Both|
|LB||Jordan Crook||Antonio Grier||Brad Spence|
|NB||Lorando Johnson||Jaylen Lewis||Jabrae Shaw|
|CB||Jaheim Singletary||Dwight McGlothern||Aidan McCowan|
|S||Hudson Clark||Jayden Johnson||Christian Ford|
|S||Alfahiym Walcott||Malik Chavis||TJ Metcalf|
|CB||Jaylon Braxton||Kee’yon Stewart||LaDarrius Bishop|
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