Key, closed scrimmage coming for Hogs on Saturday

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson is one of two Razorback players named to the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award, alongside running back Raheim Sanders. (UA Athletics)

After six workouts, the Arkansas Razorback football team took a break from the practice field Wednesday to gear up for three of the most important practices of preseason camp.

Thursday and Friday’s workouts will lead into Saturday’s scrimmage, which is closed to the media and the public. Some ex-players, high-pocketed boosters, and friends of the coaching staff might or might not be able to attend the workout, but like the old Charlie Rich song goes, “No one knows what goes on behind closed doors.”

Obviously some info may leak out, or it may not. It just depends on how many and which friends of the program are allowed in. Some talk; others don’t. But none of it will be filmed or photographed to give anything away to opponents.

With most programs in the SEC operating in a similar manner, it behooves Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman to keep his squad under wraps as well. Coaches can glean things from footage that folks like us may miss. I certainly wish the scrimmages were open like in the past, but access has been limited to the media and fans dating back to the final season of Houston Nutt’s tenure as coach in 2007.

But you don’t have to see a scrimmage to know that Saturday’s workout will play a key role in the development of this team. Certainly Arkansas’ assistant coaches will grade and access the players at their positions throughout the year, but that first scrimmage is often where a tone is set for the season.

Being mostly live — quarterbacks will be off limits — it will give players who have flashed early in camp the opportunity to further solidify the team’s pecking order position by position.

Monday’s practice will be key. What is the pecking order at positions? Has it changed since Friday?

Are there any discernible movements along the offensive line or in the secondary? What’s the depth chart on the defensive line? Are the Hogs’ truly two or three deep there?

With Pittman two-spotting — working the first and third teams simultaneously as well as the second and fourth teams together on the Hogs’ two practice fields — it might be difficult to completely document the ups and downs this early in camp.

And until scout teams are formulated in late August, it will be hard to nail down a depth chart, and one likely won’t be provided by the UA until the week of the first game. How accurate or deceptive it will be is always a question.

What seems to be a building storyline is that this Razorback team has depth. Maybe not at every position, but when a second-teamer is listed on a depth chart, it’s less likely to be a spot filler and actually a player who could give a starter a break without leaving the Hogs’ playing left-handed.

Four Razorbacks earned preseason All-SEC honors last week, led by running back Raheim Sanders’ first-team selection. (UA Athletics)

So far all has been mostly quiet on the injury front this season, which is a relief after the struggles the Razorbacks had last season that led to them having the most porous pass defense in the nation.

It sounds as if an infusion of transfer portal talent along with key returning starters in the secondary like Dwight “Nudie” McGlothern and Hudson Clark and vets like Malik Chavis means that dubious distinction won’t be repeated. Al Walcott and Lorando “Snax” Johnson are two names that keep coming up in post-practice media conferences, too. They sound like hits from the transfer portal.

Word is Arkansas’ restocked receiving corps is keeping their defensive counterparts on their toes. The Hogs’ probably have the tallest receiving room in the school’s history with seven receivers that stand 6-3 or taller. Height isn’t everything. Arkansas receivers Isaiah Sategna and Bryce Stephens will tell you that, but it does help with the 50/50 ball.

One of the most encouraging things I’ve heard from the player interviews was McGlotheren bragging on K.J. Jefferson’s passing prowess, saying that he’s showing more touch and is actually leading the receivers and perhaps even passing them open. If Jefferson has added timing and touch to his already strong arm, he’ll be even more potent as a quarterback than he was the last two seasons. Jefferson is chasing several school records, including the possibility of being the first Razorback quarterback to lead Arkansas to three bowl victories.

While preseason polls are just opinions and a starting point, I have to say I still enjoy seeing them. In ESPN’s Coaches Poll, SEC squads occupy six spots.

The two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs are ensconced at No. 1 until someone beats them. Alabama comes in at No. 3 with LSU at No. 5, Tennessee at No. 10, Ole Miss at No. 22 and Texas A&M at No. 25.

That should be some ammo for the Hogs, whom Pittman has called a “good football” team more than once this preseason. Arkansas special teams coordinator Scott Fountain said the Hogs are the most talented Razorback team in his four years with the program.

What does their confidence mean? It’s hard to say less than a week into preseason camp, but it does make me feel better about the prospects of having a better than six-win season this year, even with an ultra-challenging schedule.

There are two more practices before Saturday’s scrimmage. I’m very eager to hear what that scrimmage yields and what tone it sets for next week’s set of practices.

Arkansas Razorbacks 2023 football schedule

Countdown to Kickoff: 24 Days

Sept. 2 – Western Carolina at Little Rock (12 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)

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