Pittman looks to team unity and Jefferson’s leadership for a more productive 2023 season

Sam Pittman (SEC Network)

SEC Media Days is always a mixed bag. A lot of information is gleaned at the unofficial kickoff of the season, held this year in Nashville, Tenn., but like anything, some bits of that information aren’t all that useful or important.

Sometimes those asking questions try to be cute during their 30 seconds of fame on the SEC Network like the fellow Wednesday from Memphis who asked Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman if he drank Hamm’s beer before following it up with a more legitimate question.

Hamm’s beer is a budget brand of brew out of St. Paul, Minn. I guess the questioner was trying to humorously connect Hamm’s brand to ham and Hogs or Razorbacks? Who knows?

Pittman famously replied that he was going to enjoy “a cold one,” when he was asked by a TV reporter how he would celebrate the victory. I guess that’s what sparked the question.

Unfazed Pittman said he likes an ol Hamm’s beer, but it made him burp too much. The Head Hog then added, “You seem like you have a good job. Step it up a little,” insinuating the questioner should try a higher quality brand of the frothy beverage.

Pittman’s good nature and humor showed up throughout his media appearances. He imparted some telling information while keeping the “SEC Now” crew in stitches with his affable nature and penchant for storytelling.

When asked about the turnover at the wide receiver position, Pittman pointed out that when you use the transfer portal to bolster the ranks at a position like they did last season that it often means you have to count on it again.

All of Arkansas’ top receivers exited the program last year either by going pro or through the transfer portal. The Hogs are filling the game with transfers Andrew Armstrong (6-4, 201) of Texas A&M Commerce, Isaac TeSlaa (6-4, 214) from Hillsdale College, and Tyrone Broden (6-7, 197) of Bowling Green. All bring excellent size and good hands, but none of them has taken a snap on the SEC level much less made a play. Sophomores Isaiah Satenga (5-11, 178) of Fayetteville, Bryce Stephens (6-0, 175) of Oklahoma City, and Sam Mbake (6-3, 203) of Kennesaw, Ga., all have great hands and speed, but played sparingly as freshmen.

However, Pittman feels receiver coach Kenny Guiton has a potent mixture brewing with the transfers and the returning talent.

“Sometimes the talent level isn’t quite as important as the feeling in the room,” Pittman said of his receivers and even extended the comment to the entire squad. “The togetherness. You don’t have to have all the best players to be the best damn team. This is my opinion, but right now, we’re pretty damn strong as a team.”

KJ Jefferson (SEC Network)

That’s a confident and inspiring statement for Pittman to make just over two weeks before the start of preseason practice. Pittman also knows every team has optimism going into a season. He also knows his Razorbacks’ determination, will be tested.

“Now someone is going to hit us in the face, and we’re going to have to figure out if we are strong enough, like the game last year against [Texas] A&M. We had the game. We were in control of the game. It [ K.J. Jefferson’s fumble near the goal line that the Aggies returned for a touchdown] hits us in the face. We go in at halftime, and we’re still ahead, but we felt like we are down by 50.”

Arkansas lost to the Aggies, 23-21, after missing a late-game field goal because of a bad snap. The loss was a hard lesson, but Pittman said he and the team this year should be better for it because quarterback K.J. Jefferson has become an even stronger leader.

“Now we have to have a coaching staff — me — and our team has to adjust faster to have success because we can’t lose four games by a total nine points,” Pittman said of his hard-luck Hogs last season. “We just can’t. The difference is 7 [wins] to 11 [wins]. But, K.J. is going to be the difference in that. He’s got plenty of people to go to, but HE is the leader of THE TEAM, not the offense, not the defense but the whole team. Coming from a quarterback position, that’s a big deal.”

Pittman also likes the progression of the Hogs’ defense under first-year defensive coordinator Travis Williams, but he also offered props to defensive line coach Deke Adams, who is the only defensive coach to return from last year’s staff.

“I like our D-Line, a LOT. We have a lot of good defensive linemen,” Pittman said. “Deke Adams has done a wonderful job of recruiting. He changed the room. “You can’t just go and say will you come? You got to work, and he did it.”

Adams’ recruiting and development of the talent should give the Razorbacks the saltiest and deepest pool of defensive linemen in recent memory.

“We’re going to be able to play a four-down front,” Pittman said. “We’re going to be able to three-down with a buck. We need that. I did not want to take those bigs off the field. I’m telling you, I think we’re six deep, three on each side at D-end, and at least five deep on the inside that can play. We did not have that.”

Pittman also sees promise with Arkansas’ linebackers and secondary.

“I like our linebackers. I love Pooh Paul, and I think we have corners who can cover,” he said.

Pittman said first-year defensive coordinator Travis Williams is a ball of energy and positivity that is just what the program needed.

Arkansas Razorbacks 2023 Football schedule

Countdown to Kickoff: 44 Days

Sept. 2 – Western Carolina at Little Rock (3 p.m. ESPN+/SEC+)
Sept. 9 – Kent State (3 p.m. SEC Network)
Sept. 16 – BYU (6:30 p.m. ESPN2)
Sept. 23 – at LSU (TBA)
Sept. 30 – Texas AM at Arlington, Texas (TBA)
Oct. 7 – at Ole Miss (TBA)
Oct. 14 – at Alabama (TBA)
Oct. 21 – Mississippi State (TBA)
Nov. 4 – at Florida (TBA)
Nov. 11 – Auburn (TBA)
Nov. 18 – Florida International (TBA)
Nov. 24 – Missouri – (3 p.m. CBS)