Gritty work ahead of Hogs as preseason camp wages on

Arkansas sophomore linebacker Jordan Crook practices during a scrimmage at the Fred W Smith Football Center in Fayetteville on Saturday, Aug. 12. (UA Athletics)

Cliched as it may be, the dog days of summer are no doubt setting in on the Arkansas Razorbacks as they lurch forward through preseason football camp.

Game week remains nearly two weeks away, and no doubt the adrenaline that came with the opening of preseason camp is running low or perhaps out at this point.

While two- and three-a-day practices are a thing of the past, the mental preparation and classroom skill and film sessions are keeping the Hogs mentally busy in the afternoons, even if they aren’t wearing their bodies down and out on the practice fields.

With morning practices and relatively mild temperatures for much of the last week, the Hogs should have gotten quality work in across the board. However, the summer heat is reportedly on its way back toward the end of the week and isn’t supposed to break for the rest of the month.

Practices will be toasty for the foreseeable future as workouts move to the afternoon with classes commencing on Monday.

This is the point when player’s mental toughness is tasked as much as the physical. Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said installation of the offense and defense is at around 85% and will continue to move forward as the days sift by ahead of the Razorbacks’ season opener on Sept. 2 against Western Carolina at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.

Like most first scrimmages, last Saturday’s work was reportedly a bit sloppy. Pittman said there were too many penalties. Certainly corrections will be made this week in preparation for Saturday’s scrimmage, which will be the last full-scale work of the preseason.

While the Hogs’ have suffered only one season-ending injury — receiver Sam Mbake in Saturday’s scrimmage — the fact that both of Arkansas’ expected starters at linebacker Chris “Pooh” Paul and Antonio Grier are injured is troublesome. Certainly it is giving younger performers like Jordan Crook, Mani Powell, Brad Spence and others the opportunity for more reps, but Grier is new to the program and Paul is just a sophomore. Both need all the work they can get.

The same can be said for 6-9, 334-pound offensive tackle Devon Manuel. He is set to be a starter, but every snap the sophomore misses puts him further behind schedule. The same can be said for the transfer defensive tackles who are missing time with nagging injuries.

Injuries are a part of the game, but preseason camp is valuable time that when lost can’t be made up. The train has to keep moving forward.

Maybe the best news coming out of the scrimmage was that running back Dominique Johnson broke off a long run. Johnson missed the majority of last season with knee injuries and earning a starting role in the last fourth of the 2021 season.

The 6-1, 247-pound power runner has better speed than he is often credited, and his return gives the Razorbacks another option in an already stacked backfield with Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, Rashod Dubion, and A.J. Green.

While many are looking forward to the changes Dan Enos might make with the Razorbacks’ passing game with his return as offensive coordinator, this squad is stacking up to be one that will be able to play bully ball with its outstanding stable of running backs and experience returning up the middle with center Beaux Limmer and guards Brady Latham, Joshua Braun and backup Ty’Kieast Crawford clearing the way.

Arkansas Razorbacks 2023 football schedule

Countdown to Kickoff: 17 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)