Today’s a big day for the Arkansas Razorbacks as they inch toward the 2020 football season. With the Razorbacks’ Sept. 26 opener against Georgia just over a month away, the Hogs are scheduled to scrimmage today in a closed practice.
It will be the first extended, live-hitting look first-year head football coach Sam Pittman and his staff will get at their squad. Impressions made today aren’t permanent, but every player wants to get off on the right foot under a first-year head coach and staff.
Scrimmages are where impressions are made or even cemented, and it’s where preconceived notions about players are either confirmed or pushed to the side. This scrimmage and the others the Hogs will have over the next two to weeks will go a long way in determining who and how players fit into the Razorbacks’ plans for the upcoming season.
Over the next three weeks Razorback assistants will be determining which players fit into the plans for this season, and which ones will be relegated to the scout teams. At least for the first of the season.
The scout team plays a crucial role for college teams, mimicking opponents’ offenses and defenses, but in most seasons, scout teamers have a difficult time finding playing time and often redshirt.
However, in no way is this a normal season, because of the coronavirus looming over every aspect our lives, even football.
While the Razorbacks’ training staff and coaching are doing all they know how to keep the Hogs safe, there is only so much that can be done to combat the infectious nature of COVID-19. Though we’d all probably rather not think about it, it’s not just possible but likely one or more of the Razorbacks will be infected with the virus this season. The contagious nature of the virus just makes it likely no matter how careful everyone involved is.
That means backups and scout teamers must be ready to step in and play at any time this season because no matter how careful the Razorbacks are, the chances are likely players will become infected at some point.
That likelihood should have every Razorback on notice. No matter how deeply a player may seem mired on the depth chart, his opportunity to play might just be a cough away.
That reality should create an urgency among players, even those mired near the bottom of the depth chart, that should make practices extremely competitive through out this season.
Obviously, there is no spot more critical on the depth chart than quarterback. Play at that position can make or break a team like no other.
From all indications, the Razorbacks should be better at that spot than they have been in a number of years as long as Florida graduate-transfer Feleipe Franks is healthy.
Franks (6-6, 228) started most games for the Gators through his freshman and all of his sophomore season and off was off to a strong start last year before suffering a lower right leg injury against Kentucky that ended his junior season. With the emergence of Kyle Trask for the Gators after Franks’ injury, Franks opted to finish his career with the Razorbacks.
Pittman has been coy about who his starter will be at quarterback going into the first scrimmage, but first-year Razorback offensive coordinator Kendal Briles said last week that the job is Franks’ to lose with redshirt freshman K.J. Jefferson (6-3, 236) behind him.
Pittman summed up the situation like this Tuesday.
“We’ve got certain people playing with the 1s and certain people playing with the 2s,” Pittman said Tuesday. “To be honest with you, we haven’t switched that, so… I don’t know if I’m going to make a public announcement of who’s going to be our quarterback, I might, but our team knows.”
Franks’ talent and experience should give the Razorbacks a boost this season after struggling at the position both seasons under fired head coach Chad Morris, who is now the offensive coordinator at Auburn.
Having a confident, veteran quarterback leading an offense that is filled with sophomores and juniors who should be coming into their own should give Razorback fans some hope despite the fact most have the Hogs picked last in the SEC in a year when Arkansas is playing a 10-game, SEC-only schedule.
Franks and the rest of the Razorback offense will also be able to lean on the talent and experience of senior running back Rakeem Boyd (6-0, 206), who boasts the speed, power, and experience to be one of the best runners in the SEC this season.
That veteran talent should have the opportunity to thrive in Briles’ up-tempo offense that spreads the field to create one-on-one opportunities for the quarterback, receivers, and running backs.
If the Razorbacks can round the offensive line into shape, the Hogs could have their most potent offense since 2016 or perhaps beyond. As a former offensive line coach, Pittman specialized in having large, powerful lineman sleek enough to move for the run game and powerful enough to hold the line in the passing game. It seems he and his offensive line coach Brad Davis have already made some strides with with line with most of them showing positive weight gains this season.
Arkansas’ offense should be improved this season if the likes of Franks and Boyd remain healthy, but the 10-game, all-SEC schedule is going to be brutal and taxing on Arkansas and for that matter every team in the SEC.
The key to being successful in the SEC is to be able to fight on and continue to play at a high level despite the injuries that always seem to mount.
My expectation is for Arkansas to be solid if not better offensively this season, but the Razorbacks’ defense remains suspect going into the season, despite beefing up the defensive line. Next Tuesday, we’ll consider how the Hogs’ defense stacks up against their brutal all-SEC schedule.