FAYETTEVILLE – New Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman approved Friday’s first practice of the since Aug. 17 Razorbacks’ preseason practices geared against their first opponent instead of just the Razorbacks themselves.
Arkansas opens its entirely SEC 10-game schedule on Sept. 26 against the nationally No. 4 Georgia Bulldogs at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Razorbacks worked in shoulder pads and shorts, the typical attire of a Monday game-week type practice.
“I was pleased with the practice we had today,” Pittman said. “It was just base of first and second down starting the situations that we had today. The base run game. Base protections and the base defense what we think they are going to do on first and second down. It went really well.”
A little more excitement perhaps finally working on their opponent with game week approaching?
“Yeah, the excitement was high today,” Pittman said. “The music at stretch was the best it’s ever been. And so the guys were all excited and they were revved. up to go. It was a really good practice. A really good Monday type practice.”
It’s been recently exciting for walk-ons Luke Jones, a third-year sophomore offensive lineman from Little Rock and Pulaski Academy, and Simeon Blair, a third-year sophomore defensive back/special teamer from Pine Bluff.
They are walk-ons no more. Both have been awarded scholarships, Pittman announced Friday night.
As a transfer from Notre Dame who redshirted last year at Arkansas, Jones was presumed to be a scholarship candidate.
Blair earned his impressing the new staff after paying two year dues as a true freshman and redshirt freshman under Chad Morris in 2018 and 2019. He lettered last year logging 184 plays on special teams and some plays in the secondary in the season’s final two games
“I think he’s starting on four special teams for us,” Pittman said. “He also has a role on defense. He’s a guy that you want on your football team. A guy that’s unselfish that works hard, and he’s going to help us on teams, so that’s a big deal for us. To me, if you start on all four teams, you’re a starter, so I think he’s earned that.”
Regarding the offensive line, Pittman said on his radio show Wednesday night that there has been some personnel mixing and matching because of in and out absences injuries and presumably COVID-19 testing related.
How does that situation bode for the Georgia game?
“I think we’ll be fine there,” Pittman said. “Obviously, we have three more tests for cover. But I think we’re sitting in good shape there to put a quality offensive line out there. Certainly that’s what we’re expecting. But you continue to test each week, and that can certainly adjust who’s out there. But I think we have enough depth there that is something did happen, we’d be in pretty good shape.”
Offensive line coach Brad Davis has done much cross training, especially with guards and centers, to increase the depth.
Overall have offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and defensive coordinator Barry Odom been able to install their schemes despite personnel interruptions?
“I think we have plenty of offense, plenty of defense in,” Pittman said. “The virus is obviously real and you have to adjust and be able to play different guys at different positions to have your best 11 out there at one time.”
Because of COVID-19, the SEC has set a minimum 53-man scholarship roster requirement for a game to be played.
“We talked in the head coaches’ meeting about seven O-linemen, four D-linemen, and a quarterback on a 53 scholarship squad, minimal,” Pittman said. “I feel very, very, very confident that we’ll be able to do that. We have three more tests, but I feel very confident that our kids will be able to quarantine themselves and stay in this bubble that we’ve been staying in and get to the game.”
For any out this week, how late next week, in Pittman’s view, could they return to practice and be game ready?
“Basically the NCAA put in a percentile, where they have to be back by Wednesday to go play in the game if they tested positive,” Pittman said. “Now, if you’re in quarantine, you basically can come back on Friday before the game. I don’t know that you’ll get a lot of productivity out of a guy that didn’t practice the entire week and came back Friday. For me, certainly I wish the latest would be Tuesday.”
On a team decision voicing their concerns for social justice, Pittman said, “We’ll all be wearing equality patches on our jersey. We certainly are excited about that situation that the guys can have a voice in wearing the patch. We’re excited to do it.”