FAYETTEVILLE — Many times during a bye week a team will scrimmage its younger players in hopes of developing them, but due to so many injuries Arkansas has played several of the ones who would otherwise be getting the extra reps.
Arkansas is 2-2 on the season, will have a bye on Saturday then play six consecutive games beginning with Texas A&M on Oct. 31. Sam Pittman has used this week to try and get all the injured players back with the exception of anyone who had a season-ending injury.
“I’ve said it before: We had to get healthy this week,” Pittman said. “We’re so happy with the guys who came in and helped the football team and helped themselves when we had injuries. But our depth, honestly guys, going into some of these games was … I didn’t know if I might need to suit out, and that wouldn’t be good. So we had to get healthy, and we have done that.
“Three days of non contact basically. We’ve been in helmets, no pads, but we are preparing for Texas A&M. We’ve done that now for two practices and will be again today. But it’s non-physical practices. We’ll practice about an hour and a half and I believe we’ll have – besides the injuries that have been season-ending injuries – I think we’ll be pretty close to full tilt come Monday.”
Pittman went on to explain more about why they have chosen not to give extra contact work to the younger players.
“We have not,” Pittman said. “I could lie to you, I could whatever, but we haven’t. That’s probably the most disappointing thing. Unless you count scout team work, which I do. But it has not been pads. We did not take advantage of that part of it to this point. Well, we’re not going to this week. We just made a decision that we needed to keep our team healthy and I’m talking about from one to four on the depth chart. Because trust me, at six weeks in a row, you’re going to need them.
“If you look at our roster and you go, OK, well you have to have 53 scholarship guys. We could get wiped out by COVID at a few positions, but the likelihood of us not playing with the criteria that the SEC has set I mean it could happen, but probably very unlikely. Therefore, we may play with some of these 3s and 4s and things of that nature which we have. So we just decided staying healthy was more important than anything else this week.”
As with everything else this season, and year for that matter, even the bye week is different in that the likelihood of getting exposed to COVID is greater. Does that mean Pittman will allow the players the normal free time they would get on a bye week or has that changed too?
“Well, they have practice today and then they have a morning lift Friday,” Pittman said. “And then they have obviously academic obligations and then after that they’re completely off Friday-Saturday-Sunday. Then we come back from 6 to 8 Sunday night. It’s a little bit academics from 6 to 7 for some of the team. And then from 6 to 8 is our COVID test. You know we had off – I’m not positive what the difference is – from a 3 o’clock game and you win a game and the kids are out of here by 7:30 on a Saturday night, versus them going wherever they’re going.
“The greatest thing to happen: remember when steroids was in athletics? Basically the NCAA said if you get tested positive for anabolic steroids, you’re out. Well that kind of, that stopped it. It’s kind of the same way with this COVID virus. The bottom line is our kids know if they get COVID, that they’re basically out for two games.”
Sophomore Trey Knox has only caught four passes for 33 yards and was one of the last wide receivers into the game this past Saturday. Is he hurt?
“No, I think he is doing really well,” Pittman said. “No, he’s not injured at all. And he’s doing a fine job and those things. No, no injury or anything of that nature. We’ve got a wide receiver room that’s very competitive in there. At this day and time whatever reps he’s getting is where he is on the depth chart at this point and time.”
As noted, several younger players have played this season in the first four games. Pittman feels that is a good thing.
“Well, it’s really huge,” Pittman said. “If you really look at it, there’s some disappointment with some of the freshmen in that, ‘Hey coach, can I talk to you? I’m not where I want to be on the depth chart,’ and things of that nature because there’s so many other freshmen that have been forced into playing. We’ve dealt a little bit with that, just simply because my buddy, my roommate over here, he’s getting to play and I’m not. It’s just been a little bit different than what you might think in the SEC. And that’s a good thing. We were able to talk to them and things of that nature, but we have had several young kids that have been able to play on Saturdays. Again, we just decided, hey, we’re going to get as healthy as we possibly can.”
When senior Grant Morgan left the Ole Miss game briefly with an injury, true freshman walk-on Jackson Woodard came in at linebacker. Pittman talked about why he went into the game instead of maybe Kelin Burrle, J.T. Towers and even Jashaud Stewart who also has worked at defensive end.
“Well, I think all those guys are doing a good job,” Pittman said. “Jashaud, he’s getting a lot of special teams action, but he’s had a hamstring, so that’s stopped his progress a little bit, even though I think he’s healthy now. Woodard is, he was able to play a little bit because that’s where he is on the depth chart. Some guys just develop faster than others. The worst thing you can do is you really don’t want to put a young man out there that’s not ready. You can ruin him. You can ruin his confidence, physically. So those guys are a little bit behind Woodard right now and obviously I’d rather look at it as a compliment for Woodard than a detriment for those other two kids. Young guys just develop at different speeds and we’re happy all of them are here.”
It appears that junior cornerback Montaric Brown will finally return after missing some time with an injury. In his absence, Hudson Clark has emerged as a star. Jerry Jacobs also appears getting healthy at the other cornerback. What will Pittman do with the three of them?
“I saw all three of them out there at practice yesterday at the same time,” Pittman said. “You know, you know how it is. We’re gonna play our best 11 players and try to figure out how we can stop people. We’re gonna play our best 11 players on offense and see if we can score more points than normal. But if those guys are three of our top five players in the three safety, two corner look then we’re going to have them all on the field at the same time.”
True freshman Marcus Henderson was signed as one of the top offensive linemen in the class. He has worked some at tight end as well with the lack of depth there. What’s he doing in practice this week?
“Marcus has played more offensive line this week,” Pittman said. “We still have him at tight end because we need him, especially for depth there. To be honest with you, he’s practiced both spots every day, which has helped him because he knows the offense quite well. But, we have moved him back in the meetings to Coach (Brad) Davis’ meeting and the O-line. He was meeting all the time at tight end and then playing O-line when he wasn’t playing tight end. Now he’s meeting with the O-line and playing tight end when he’s not playing O-line, so we just kind of reversed a little bit. But he’s done a really nice job. He’s a smart kid. Really proud of him, and he’s going to be a good player.”
Arkansas and Texas A&M will meet in College Station on Oct. 31 with a 6:30 p.m. kickoff and televised on the SEC Network.