FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has new coordinators on both offense and defense and it’s apparent this spring things are different.
Dan Enos now runs the offense and Morgan Turner coaches the tight ends. Travis Williams is the new defensive coordinator and the secondary has a pair of new coaches in Marcus Woodson and Deron Wilson. Sam Pittman talked about the differences with Enos and Williams opposed to Kendal Briles and Barry Odom.
“We’re in a whole different front on defense,” Pittman said. “We’re very aggressive. Very aggressive on defense. I think that would be the most significant change. The kids are really adapting to T-Will and Woodson and Wilson, and of course Deke’s (Adams) back. But they have a really good rapport with the kids.”
Enos is starting his second stint at Arkansas. He was with Bret Bielema from 2015-17. Pittman was the offensive line coach in 2015 with Enos. When Briles left, Pittman wasted no time in reaching out to Enos.
“Dan is a totally different style in that it’s more of a pro-style offense,” Pittman said. “To me there’s a lot of identification and reads before you snap the ball in a pro-style offense and in a quick, fast-pace a lot of your decision-making comes after the snap of the ball. So I think that’s probably the biggest difference and KJ (Jefferson), you know we’re going under center some. KJ’s really taking to that.
“I’ve got to say this, I think (Jacolby) Criswell over the last two practices is starting to catch on, and he’s showing his arm strength and his accuracy so I’ve been really pleased with those two guys. But I’d say that’s probably the biggest difference in a pro style, which Dan brings to us and a fast-paced offense.”
Pittman said during this past Saturday’s scrimmage the defense got the best of the offense. He also talked about how it’s not unusual for the defense to be ahead of the offense at this time of spring.
“I mean, as an offensive line coach forever I think there’s some truth in what you’re saying,” Pittman said. “We obviously lost some offensive linemen and some tight ends from last year’s team that running-the-ball wise would certainly have some differences in there from that. But yeah, I think if you look over the period of time the defense is usually ahead of the offense. However I’ve been on teams where the offense is ahead of the defense and you’re just scared to death because you’re going ‘Oh my Lord. What are we going to do?’”
Pittman did expand on why he thinks the defense is currently doing so well and it’s not just the typical reason and circumstance.
“But I will say this, I think there’s a part of that, but I believe that our defensive line has really, really improved,” Pittman said. “And putting another guy out there or having the capability of putting another guy out there and the guy being a good football player, I think that’s changed the mentality of our defense. And again, I know we’ve lost some linebackers too, with Drew (Sanders) and Bump (Pool) and all them, but I’ve been really pleased with how those linebackers are running and attacking.
“Now we’re a little bit different now because we’ve scrimmaged at some point in time twice already, and we will again in the spring scrimmage, so we’re finding out a little bit more, I think, about our football team because I’ve decided that I’m going to quit worrying about things that you worry about when you scrimmage and just go out there and try to make our team better. The game is about blocking and tackling, and we’ve got to figure out who can do that, and you can’t do that if you’re in a thud all the time. So, I understand why everybody does, and I understood why I did. Had a veteran team. But it’s hard for somebody to get from second team to first team if you’re not letting them play the game. Anyway, it’s been a lot of fun in the spring so far. It’s gone fast with us having, I believe, six practices left now.”
On the defensive line, one player who stood out Saturday was defensive end Landon Jackson. He transferred in from LSU last year and was a highly recruited four-star recruit out of high school.
“I think if you look back, Landon had come off an ACL,” Pittman said. “He was tall and thin. I mean, he was skinny. He was playing about three quarter speed and he got a little bit better as the year went on. Now he’s bigger, confident, long. He’s a problem, now. A good problem. He’s on our team, but he’s a problem if you’re an offensive lineman. It’s just his speed and his size right now that…I mean, he’s been hard to block.”
Running back Rocket Sanders drew praise from Pittman for his play this past Saturday. Sanders is heading into his junior year regarded as one of the best running backs in the nation.
“Rocket rushed for about 67, 70 yards, something like that,” Pittman said. “I think he was definitely the leader in that.”
Pittman said no one else really caught his eye on Saturday at running back.
“I don’t think the run game was good,” Pittman said. “A lot of zero yardage gains, lot of negative yardage gains. Now, you’re looking at ones, twos and threes and things of that nature. AJ (Green) had a nice run in a ‘get the ball back’. I think those two… Rashod (Dubinion), wasn’t one of his better days. Didn’t have a lot of area to run. But AJ made a few plays, and Rocket certainly made guys miss, ran over a few guys and made some yards. The run game, if we were playing a game, it would have been non-successful for the day.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields today. The spring game is Saturday, April 15, at noon.