Pittman takes more open approach with spring football

Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman gestures to his team during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The Arkansas Razorbacks will be taking a more open approach to spring football workouts in the coming weeks head coach Sam Pittman said Tuesday when he met with the media to give a preview of what stands to be a pivotal time for his squad.

Pittman is entering his fifth season as head coach, and the Razorbacks are coming off a very disappointing season after finishing with an unexpected 4-7 record last season.

Prognosticators were high on the Hogs coming out of spring ball last year with some predicting as many as 10 victories for a team with the quarterback and running back duo of K.J. Jefferson and Rocket Sanders leading the way.

However, a rebuilt offensive line with three new starters and three underclassmen among the team’s top four offensive tackles gave Jefferson and particularly Sanders very little room to maneuver.

The Hogs had difficulty moving the ball and scoring consistently, and while the defense played well early, the losses ground that unit to bits by November. The Razorbacks suffered embarrassing losses to Auburn and Missouri in the last month of the season.

Transition is now the name of the game in college sports during the offseason, particularly with a team that underachieves.

There was a mass exodus from Fayetteville at the end of the season, including arguably the three most heralded Razorbacks in Jefferson who transferred to Central Florida, Sanders who transferred to South Carolina, and linebacker Chris Paul Jr. who transferred to Ole Miss.

When the Hogs take the practice field Thursday morning, 39 new Razorbacks will suit up for the Hogs for the first time. College teams are allowed 85 scholarship players and 105 players overall. The Hogs are fresh off a seven-and-a-half-week training regimen to prepare for spring ball.

Arkansas 2024 Football Schedule

Aug. 31 — Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Little Rock
Sept. 7 — at Oklahoma State
Sept. 14 — Alabama-Birmingham
Sept. 21 — at Auburn
Sept. 28 — Texas A&M at Arlington
Oct. 5 — Tennessee
Oct. 12 — Open date
Oct. 19 — LSU
Oct. 26 — at Mississippi State
Nov. 2 — Ole Miss
Nov. 9 — Open date
Nov. 16 — Texas
Nov. 23 — Louisiana Tech
Nov. 30 — at Missouri

Pittman said during the spring media will be able to watch longer than the short 15- to 20-minute viewing period of the recent past, and that three scrimmages will be open to the fans and media.

Pittman said the loosening of practice restrictions is to acclimate the new Razorbacks to playing in front of fans, but it could also be perceived as a good-will, public-relations gesture to fans after the miserable outcome of last season.

And no doubt Hog fans who fondly remember the success of the Bobby Petrino era (2008-11) that featured back-to-back, double-digit winning seasons for the first time since 1988 and 1989 will enjoy seeing Petrino coordinate the offense while searching for the Hogs’ starting quarterback in those three scrimmages.

Whatever else you’d like to say about Petrino, there is no doubt the man can coach offense, and Arkansas’ quarterbacks will no doubt benefit from his daily guidance in meetings and practice and from his play-calling on game day.

There will be a battle for the starting quarterback spot between junior Taylen Green, a transfer from Boise State; Jacolby Criswell, Jefferson’s back-up last year; redshirt freshman Malachi Singleton, and true freshman K.J. Jackson.

Pittman allowed Tuesday that Green might have an advantage for the starting job because he was a part-time starter at Boise State last year, but all four are starting over working in Petrino’s offense.

Just as Pittman did with previous offensive coordinators Kendall Briles and Dan Enos, he is letting Petrino call the shots with the offense. The players will adjust to Petrino rather than the other way around, making this the third new offensive installation in a row for Razorbacks, who have been on the squad that long.

Pittman said seven-on-seven skeleton offensive drills will take up a larger portion of spring practice daily for the Hogs to acclimate to the new offense and for the defensive secondary, which has three new faces, to see a lot of work.

Two former Hogs won’t be returning for the spring. Offensive tackle Andrew Chamblee “lost his love for the game,” according to Pittman. Jashuad Stewart is no longer a part of the team after an arrest.

Tight end Luke Hasz, who was working himself into a starring role with the Hogs last fall before injuring his collar bone, is healthy. However his position mate Ty Washington will be limited by a shoulder injury this spring.

Arkansas will be rebuilding the offensive line with help from the transfer portal in sophomore center Addison Nichols from Tennessee, junior tackle Fernando Carmona Jr. from San Jose State, and tackle Keyshawn Blackstone from Michigan State. Pittman praised the work of redshirt freshman E’Marrion Harris and said Patrick Kutas would move from tackle to either guard or center, but that senior Ty”Kieast Crawford would continue to work at tackle.