Arkansas football is just around the corner, with players reporting to campus this week for the start of fall camp Friday.
Head coach Sam Pittman will meet with the media Wednesday afternoon and then the Razorbacks will have roughly four weeks to prepare for what will once again be the toughest slate in college football.
Before it takes the field against Cincinnati on Sept. 3 to kick things off, though, Arkansas still has several issues to sort out. With that in mind, here are Best of Arkansas Sports’ five most pressing questions the Razorbacks need to answer during camp:
1. Who will emerge as the “alpha” at wide receiver?
If you haven’t heard by now, Treylon Burks is in the NFL and already making Titans fans — and at least one writer — look silly for doubting him before he ever suits up in a real game. The Razorbacks must also replace Tyson Morris and De’Vion Warren. All together, Arkansas lost 77.9% of its receptions, 79.7% of its receiving yards and 81.3% of its receiving touchdowns by wide receivers.
That is a lot of production to replace in one off season, but the Razorbacks feel good about where they stand at the position heading into fall camp. They added Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers from the transfer portal, plus signed a trio of four-star receivers as part of their 2022 class in Isaiah Sategna, Sam Mbake and Quincey McAdoo.
Between those guys, plus Warren Thompson and Ketron Jackson Jr. entering their second season in the system after playing a lot last year and Bryce Stephens and Jaedon Wilson having another year under their belt, Arkansas appears to have quite a bit of depth at wide receiver.
However, the question remains — who will step up and help fill the shoes of Burks? Considering his credentials, Haselwood seems to be the most likely candidate, but he spent a good chunk of spring ball in a green no-contact jersey with a nagging shoulder injury. This group stepping up will be a key to Arkansas’ offense not taking a step back and is critical to KJ Jefferson’s dark-horse candidacy for the Heisman Trophy.
2. Will transfers once again dominate the defensive line?
Last season, the transfer trio of Tre Williams, John Ridgeway and Markell Utsey accounted for nearly 80 percent of Arkansas’ total starts along the defensive line and that number likely would have been higher had it not been for injuries and Williams’ pre-bowl arrest. All three of them are now gone, though, highlighted by Ridgeway becoming a fifth-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys.
How the defensive line shakes out this season remains a mystery entering fall camp because the Razorbacks were once again active in the portal. They landed a pair of defensive ends in Landon Jackson from LSU and Jordan Domineck from Georgia Tech and a defensive tackle in Terry Hampton from Arkansas State. Arkansas also nabbed defensive tackle Taylor Lewis from the JUCO ranks.
Of that group, only Jackson was on campus this spring and he was severely limited in practice because of an injury suffered last season. All four should be ready to go through drills this fall, which is when the aforementioned trio established themselves as starters.
It looks like Arkansas will be without defensive tackle Taurean Carter, who had an impressive spring before getting hurt early in the spring showcase, for an undetermined amount of time. Sill, the Hogs have a few key returning players with game reps under their belt who won’t just let the transfers take the starting spots. Defensive ends Zach Williams, Eric Gregory and Jashaud Stewart have shown flashes, while defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols is a fifth-year senior who’s logged a lot of snaps in his career.
3. Who will end up protecting KJ Jefferson’s blindside?
A lot has been made about the Razorbacks returning four of their five starting offensive linemen, but that lone departure was a big one, as left tackle Myron Cunningham exhausted his eligibility after coming back for his super senior season in 2021.
During the spring, fifth-year senior Luke Jones spent the most time with the first unit at left tackle. However, Brady Latham — who is the returning starting left guard — also moved outside and got some reps at the position. Redshirt freshman Devon Manuel is a certifiably large human who looks like a Pittman offensive lineman and could push for playing time after spending most of the spring as the backup left tackle.
Perhaps the most exciting possibility is Ty’Kieast Crawford. With super senior Dalton Wagner being held out because of a lingering back issue, the former four-star recruit filled in as the starting right tackle this spring, but Pittman mentioned he’ll get a look at left tackle during fall camp. Assuming Wagner is healthy, Crawford could find himself playing one of the most important positions on the field
4. What exactly will be Malik Hornsby’s role in the offense?
About midway through spring ball, the Razorbacks threw a curve ball by starting to give backup quarterback Malik Hornsby some reps at wide receiver. Most of his action came in the form of motioning into the backfield early on, but the playbook slowly evolved and eventually included him running some go routes — leading to some impressive grabs downfield.
It was be interesting to see how Hornsby’s reps are split up during fall camp and if that package expands to an actual part of the offense or remains a gimmick. Pittman has talked about needing to get Hornsby’s speed on the field in some way and this would be a way to accomplish that without taking your star quarterback off the field.
There’s a chance that the answer to this question could also help answer the No. 1 question on this list, especially with Jefferson telling reporters at SEC Media Days that he was surprised by how well Hornsby could catch the ball. The prospect of him taking handoffs, running the option with Jefferson, catching screens *and* running routes is quite exciting considering his athleticism.
5. Where will Myles Slusher end up playing in the secondary?
Since joining the Razorbacks as a four-star recruit in the class of 2020, Myles Slusher has primarily been a safety. He actually started a couple of games as the extra safety in Arkansas’ dime package as a freshman and then moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore when Jalen Catalon went down with a season-ending shoulder injury.
That would seem to indicate he has the inside track to become a full-time starting safety this season, especially with Joe Foucha’s departure, but the Razorbacks have been experimenting with him. Throughout the spring, he was primarily the starting nickel, replacing Greg Brooks Jr., but also got some snaps at cornerback — a spot where he will get more work during fall camp.
Arkansas is probably hopeful that not only Catalon stays healthy, but also that Georgia transfer Latavious Brini can emerge as a starting safety, which would require overtaking former walk-on Simeon Blair. The Razorbacks also like sophomore Jayden Johnson, but he — and Brini — also have experience playing nickel.
It seems very likely that Slusher will end up starting somewhere, or at the very least getting significant reps. Where, exactly, that’ll be should be determined by how the rest of the secondary shakes out during camp, as he seems to be a Swiss Army knife capable of playing multiple spots.
Check out what Sam Pittman had to say about his team at SEC Media Days:
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