Pittman on Hogs: ‘I like where we’re at’

A week in the books

Arkansas linebackers Antonio Grier (left) and Jordan Crook take part in a drill during Tuesday’s practice in Fayetteville. Razorbacks Coach Sam Pittman had a positive review Thursday of Arkansas’ first week of practice. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

FAYETTEVILLE -- One week through preseason football training camp, the Arkansas Razorbacks have held up well from an injury standpoint and fourth-year Coach Sam Pittman said he has liked the progress he's seen in specific areas of concern.

"I like what we're doing," Pittman said after Thursday's practice, the Hogs' sixth of fall camp and first full-pad work on the outside practice fields in temperatures that started in the mid-70s but rose into the mid-80s with high humidity. "I think we're throwing and catching the ball well.

"Defensively I think we're keeping the edge well, running to the ball well and we're finding some more linebackers and [cornerbacks]. We're able to play multiple coverages. I like where we're at."

Receiver Isaac TeSlaa and safety Al Walcott, both transfers and the players who did media interviews Thursday, spoke of being ready and revved up for the first full-pad workout.

"I say once we throw the pads on we can let the physicality show," TeSlaa said. "I feel like even without the pads everyone's got the mentality that they're going to go out there and in the run game we're going to make blocks, and in the pass game we're going to be physical and win our routes."

Pittman and his staff have stressed practicing with physicality while in spider pads or shoulder pads and shorts, even without tackling to the ground, which the Razorbacks did none of Thursday.

"That's the standard, not just for the defense but for the offense," Walcott said. "I see it from the offense as well, whether they're blocking to get to the next level with the O-line and everything. The physicality is there. That's the standard we're going to hold everyone to."

Pittman said he reviews all the practice tape to prepare for corrections and team meetings.

"What I do is watch every ounce of film after practice, [individual] and everything," he said. "What I do is click on everything I believe are busts. We're probably averaging three to seven per day, and that's two-spotting on both fields. So I feel like we're doing a really good job there."

Thursday's practice was the warmest since the first day of camp, when a forecast of near 100 degrees with a soaring heat index convinced Pittman to move practices into the early morning.

In the interim, a series of morning storms tamped down temperatures, keeping things cooler and putting the Hogs inside Walker Pavilion with regularity.

"We had a good, physical, full-padded practice today," Pittman said. "It was muggy and hot, but we needed that."

Asked about the long respite from the dog days of summer, Pittman conceded, "I got a little nervous. Every morning was a lightning rain [day], so I got a little nervous because obviously the reason you go in the morning is because you want to have great execution and you want to go fast and you want to play well and all that.

"In other words, you're not a day of survival, you're a day of seeing who you have and trying to execute at a high tempo. I think after two or three or four days of that, I was like, 'Man, we'd like to have some heat' and we sure got it today."

Walcott said he is an advocate for the early morning starts.

"I enjoy it because you're waking up and getting straight into it and you have a lot of energy," Walcott said. "Then the rest of the day you're meeting, getting corrections and everything of that sort."

Pittman mentioned that the Razorbacks will have plenty of time to gear up for sultry mid-afternoon conditions in light of the 3 p.m. kickoffs for the opener on Sept. 2 against Western Carolina in Little Rock and the following week on campus against Kent State.

Pittman had hinted if the coaches could determine they had five cornerbacks they liked, then one of them would be a candidate to work at the nickel back spot, now called "Hog," which has featured redshirt freshman Jaylen Lewis, transfer AJ Braithwaite and walk-on Jabrae Shaw.

On Thursday that kicked in, with transfer junior Lorando "Snaxx" Johnson working with the starting unit at Hog.

Johnson was asked in the spring about working at nickel back in addition to cornerback while he was at Baylor.

"I'm a football player," Johnson said. "I don't really have a position."

Johnson had been working as a starting cornerback with Dwight McGlothern since about midway through spring drills.

Defensive backs coaches Marcus Woodson and Deron Wilson looked at freshman Jaylon Braxton and transfer freshman Jaheim Singletary as first-unit corners in Thursday's fastball period, teamed with Johnson and safeties Hudson Clark and Walcott. McGlothern and Kee'yon Stewart were the second-team corners.

"We're a long way out with trying to determine that," Pittman said of the experimentation with the cover corners. "I think our guys will sometimes go with the ones, sometimes with the twos. [McGlothern] is the same way."

Pittman said senior LaDarrius Bishop, the Ashdown product who is battling back from knee surgery, was scheduled to get some reps with the first team at corner Thursday, but had a toe infection and wasn't able to practice.

"I think 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."

Pittman also said he thinks new additions will make the linebacker and tight end spots areas with solid depth.

"I'll be honest with you guys, my biggest concern was linebacker depth coming in," he said. "Tight end and linebacker depth."

Pittman pointed out that true freshman linebacker Brad Spence has come along strong, making plays all over the field to the point he pointed Spence out to the team after practice. Giving veteran Chris Paul, transfers Antonio Grier and Jaheim Thomas and sophomore Jordan Crook more support was critical.

"I believe with Spence and [Alex] Sanford coming on, along with Mani Powell, I think we're going to be fine at linebacker," Pittman said.

The tight end room that looked thin in the spring with Nathan Bax, Ty Washington and true freshman Luke Hasz, the only scholarship players at the position, has been nicely supplemented with transfers Var'keyes Gumms, Francis Sherman and signee Shamar Easter over the summer.

"We've got five tight ends that we do like," Pittman said. "Luke seems to make plays every day. Tyrus Washington has made some really nice catches as well."

At a glance


All times Central


Sept. 2W. Carolina^3 p.m.

Sept. 9Kent State3 p.m.

Sept. 16Brigham Young6:30 p.m.

Sept. 23at LSU*TBA

Sept. 30Texas A&M+*TBA

Oct. 7at Ole Miss*TBA

Oct. 14at Alabama*TBA

Oct. 21Mississippi State*TBA

Nov. 4at Florida*TBA

Nov. 11Auburn*TBA

Nov. 18Fla. InternationalTBA

Nov. 24Missouri*3 p.m.

^at War Memorial Stadium, Little Rock

+at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

*SEC game

  photo  Arkansas coach Sam Pittman speaks Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023, during a press conference ahead of the opening of fall camp in the Frank Broyles Athletic Center on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)