FAYETTEVILLE — Better bring a list if you plan on watching a University of Arkansas spring football ahead of the April 15 red-and-white spring finals.
Arkansas fourth-year coach Sam Pittman not only hired five new assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Dan Enos and defensive coordinator Travis Williams, he and the staff also onboarded 30 new signers, 22 of whom will attend spring practice starting Thursday on the UA practice fields.
The Razorbacks also added transfer cornerback Jaheim Singletary, formerly of Georgia, from the NCAA transfer portal Tuesday and have room for another eight or nine transfers when the portal reopens May 1.
Arkansas ranked at or near the top in the country for portal listings with at least 26 grantees. Pittman described how players walk in different ways.
“To be perfectly honest, I think some guys come in and see they can’t play,” Pittman said. “Maybe they’ve been over-recruited or got to a point where they don’t want to wait two or three years to get on the field. Or they don’t want to compete for two or three years to get on the field.
“These are guys you understand a little bit better. And then there are the other guys who, for whatever reason, whether it’s NIL, game time, or someone who cuts them from your roster. That’s another story.”
Arkansas lost a number of starters or key contributors with remaining eligibility, including star safety Jalen Catalon, tight end Trey Knox, receiver Ketron Jackson, defensemen Isaiah Nichols and Jordan Domineck, and defensemen Simeon Blair, Myles Slusher and Khari Johnson.
Pittman said his exit interviews with players led to an introspection for him and the program.
“What we’ve learned from that, I think the end result is that we need to communicate more often with our kids,” he said. “We need to see them in other environments than just football, which is what we did. And try to have a relationship with these guys more than just on the field.
“I think we’ll be fine. As you know, we had a fall season with a first-time head coach and also no training. So I think we’ll be fine. I’m really excited to see where we are in terms of building relationships with our kids.”
Pittman said a multitude of players will miss all or part of the spring due to injuries. But he didn’t go on the list of injured players, saying they would be apparent when reporters caught part of Thursday’s first practice session. This group includes running back Dominique Johnson (knee), quarterback Kade Renfro (knee), possibly cornerback LaDarrius Bishop (knee), and freshman offensive line signee Luke Brown (knee).
It will not include defensive tackle Taurean Carter, running back Raheim Sanders, and offensive lineman Ty’Kieast Crawford. Sanders and Crawford were both injured in the Hogs’ 55-53 double-overtime win over Kansas at the Liberty Bowl, but they’re doing fine now.
Carter posted on social media last week that he was cleared for spring practice and wrote: “Today is one of the best days of my life. … President Carter has returned. Let’s work.”
Pittman said the Hogs were being careful with Carter’s spring work. Carter, one of the team’s top performers last spring, suffered a torn ligament in his knee at last year’s spring show.
“We were told to watch him, watch if his knee was swollen and things like that, but … he was released,” Pittman said. “We’re going to be smart with him and those things, but late last spring I thought he was as good a defensive centre-back as we were.”
A core of standout players are returning, primarily on offense, led by KJ Jefferson at quarterback, Sanders, AJ Green and Rashod Dubinion at running back, and offensive linemen Brady Latham and Beaux Limmer.
Pittman was asked how Kendal Briles’ former offensive plans might meld with Enos’ concepts.
“The terminology of phone calls, line calls and things like that that the kids do, it wouldn’t change much there,” Pittman said.
Pittman also said he and Enos had a conversation about how to proceed with offensive jargon.
“That was one of the things Dan asked me when I spoke to him,” Pittman said. “He said, ‘Hey, what do you think? Do I have to marry my things with the last three years?’ I said, ‘Oh hell no. It won’t roll off your tongue if you have to remember what to call it, on the contrary, that’s my fault. I know what it is.’ ”
Pittman said installing schedules and calling is easier these days because the NCAA allowed meeting times and walk-throughs that didn’t exist before.
The same applies to Williams and co-coordinator Marcus Woodson on the defensive side.
“They’re going to keep their terminology as much as possible and our kids are going to have to learn it, which they seem to have no problem with on either side of the ball,” Pittman said.
Pittman offered more insight into how Williams’ plans might differ from the largely 3-3-5 formations Barry Odom has used for the past three seasons.
“I think the biggest thing is that we’re going to have four bigs on the field on the D line,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing I wanted. Sometimes that was not possible just because of the staff.”
Pittman said identifying players for the weak-side defensive endpoint, dubbed “Jack” by the Razorbacks, will be a key agenda item in the spring.