New-look Hogs learning and growing with new coordinators

When the Arkansas Razorbacks open the football season on Sept. 2 against Western Carolina in War Memorial Stadium at Little Rock, it will be a different-looking product thanks to the influence of first-year coordinators Travis Williams on defense and Dan Enos on offense.

Razorback fans are familiar with Enos. He served as the Hogs’ offensive coordinator for former head coach Bret Bielema from 2015-17 before stints at Alabama (2018), Miami (2019), Cincinnati (2020) and Maryland (2021-22). While he works in run-pass option principles in his offense, Enos’ base is a pro-set with options compared to Pittman’s previous offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, whose wanderlust moved him to a lateral position at TCU.

While everyone has their preferences of style, offensive formations don’t win games. The players executing them do. Kirby Smart’s Georgia squad could have ran whatever offense or defense it wanted last two years, and the Bulldogs would have been just as successful because they had dominant players all over the field and on their sidelines.

Razorback stars like quarterback K.J. Jefferson and running back Rocket Sanders will have the opportunity to thrive in Enos’ offense just as they did in Briles. It might even keep them more focused as they learn and practice new concepts that could help them when they matriculate to the NFL.

The Hogs are rebuilding the offensive line with three starters departing from last year’s veteran line. Practice has reportedly been musical chairs with offensive line coach Cody Kennedy and Pittman jostling players around at positions to find their best five players and to discover which Hogs play the best at which spots.

Most of the Hogs’ wide receivers are unproven in game action with key performers moving on for their try at the NFL or for perceived greener pastures. At tight end, proven blocker Nathan Bax is back as is Ty Washington, who caught a touchdown pass in the Hogs’ 55-53, three overtime Liberty Bowl victory over Kansas. True freshman Luke Hasz has been turning heads at practice and been singled out by Pittman in interview sessions, but at 6-3, 226 pounds, he is a bit lean to be mixing it up every down as an in-line tight end in the SEC. The more good weight he can add between now and September, the better.

After last season, things needed to be shaken up on defense. That’s no sleight to former defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who is now the head coach at UNLV.

Arkansas 2023 Football Schedule

Sept. 2 – vs. Western Carolina (in Little Rock)
Sept. 9 – vs. Kent State
Sept. 16 – vs. BYU
Sept. 16 – at LSU
Sept. 30 – vs. Texas A&M (in Arlington)
Oct. 7 – at Ole Miss
Oct. 14 – at Alabama
Oct. 21 – vs. Mississippi State
Nov. 4 – at Florida
Nov. 11 – vs. Auburn
Nov. 18 – vs. Missouri
Nov. 25 – vs. Tennessee

The Hogs’ secondary absorbed a stunning amount of injuries last season. I’ve been following Razorback football since the mid-1970s as a kid, and I cannot remember a single position group absorbing as many prolonged injuries to key players. The closest to my recollection would have been the Hogs’ offensive line in 1980. The quarterback situation was pretty dire in 2000 at midseason for a couple of games. There was a Baylor game in 1982 and an Ole Miss game in 2003 where the running back position was depleted in-game. But last season was treacherous for Razorback DBs. The amount of prolonged injuries was devastating.

There also was an exodus from the Hogs’ defensive backfield after the season, but most of the best players stayed. The Hogs replenished the position in the transfer portal.

Reports are solid from practices. Sophomore Quincey McAdoo has been struggling with an injury, but after his freshman season, he has a legitimate shot at being an All-SEC performer. Dwight McGlothern is another talented performer returning, and Hudson Clark brings corner skills to the safety position. Lorando “Snax” Johnson, a transfer from Baylor, has caught some attention for his play and personality on the field.

Chris “Poo” Paul returns as a ringleader among Arkansas’ linebackers, who no doubt will be key in Williams’ pressure-oriented defense. South Florida transfer Antonio Grier is reportedly catching on to Williams’ system quickly. Younger Hogs like Jordan Crook, Mani Powell, and Carson Dean are making headway according to Pittman and other players who have been interviewed.

Defensive end Landon Jackson, who had a good season last year coming off an ACL repair, has reportedly flipped the switch. Pittman described him as a “problem” as a pass rusher — a bad problem for opponents but a good one for the Hogs.

Cam Ball, who played well for the Hogs in the Liberty Bowl at tackle, was having a good at tackle this spring until getting injured. Taurean Carter, who is also coming off knee surgery, is still getting his feet under him, but is expected to give a big push this fall in the middle.

Henry’s defensive style is to get after the quarterback, and he is not afraid to blitz. While Arkansas’ linebacking corps is relatively young behind Paul and Grier, the twitchy athleticism is there for Arkansas to be disruptive with its front seven. However, how much a team can blitz is always predicated on how well it can cover.

Educated guesses can be made now about Arkansas’ defensive backs, but we really won’t know how the secondary will hold up until Arkansas faces an SEC opponent.

While BYU might test the Hogs on Sept. 16 at Razorbacks Stadium, the Razorbacks will know exactly where they stand after their SEC opener at LSU on Sept. 23.