FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas is holding its first preseason practice today as Sam Pittman is set to begin his second year as head coach.
The squad is very experienced as 23 seniors are on the team and 19 starters returning from 2020. Pittman was asked Thursday if having this many seniors and returning starters will change how they practice?
“No, to answer your question first,” Pittman said. “There’s not many teams in the country that ever bring back 19 starters, I wouldn’t imagine. I think Kirby (Smart) said it, we have 23 seniors, we have probably the most seniors coming back counting super seniors and regular seniors. I really haven’t. It probably won’t change much at all in practice. It might change a little bit of how we scrimmage.
“Probably won’t change a whole lot on the first scrimmage. It might change some on the second scrimmage, and that doesn’t have to be seniors. It could be guys like (Jalen) Catalon and (Treylon) Burks as well, too, but probably not a lot of change there. You have veteran players, guys that’ll play hard and they’re tough and they’re knowledgeable and they’re leaders, you’ve seen it in every sport that you have a chance and a lot of times a better chance.”
Pittman talked about what he is looking for in Week 1 from his squad.
“I’m really looking for team leadership,” Pittman said. “I want to see the team push each other. The more the team can control the tempo, the strain of practice, the better football team you’re going to have. We’ll certainly have our expectations, but you’d like for the expectations to be met by the players. That’s when you have a pretty good football team, and they feel like they own the team. That’s probably the No. 1 deal, because coming out of the spring and coming out of the summer, you felt like the team was about to take ownership of themselves. Then that becomes belief and certainly confidence comes out of that. That would be the No. 1 thing.
“Defensively, we have to be able to get the offenses we’re playing behind the chains. I think that’s the biggest thing for Barry (Odom) and them is quit getting into 2nd-and-5 and 2nd-and-6. Let’s go to 2nd-and-12 and 2nd-and-10 and give ourselves a little bit better chance. Certainly third down and getting off the field was a big part of that as well. On offense, we’re going to make a big deal, as I said, of running the ball on 3rd-and-1 and 3rd-and-2. We certainly have to get better at protecting the football, so in our practice schedules that we made there’s quite a bit more emphasis on 9-on-9 type of pocket pass protection. If everybody in the building knows you’re going to throw the football or run a draw, so does every defense that we play, and we have to be able to protect it. We can’t continue to give up the sacks that we did last year. Sacks happen for a lot of different reasons. It could be a line, it could be a back, it can be a quarterback, receivers not getting open, but sacks, as we all know, are negative plays, and we have to get rid of those. That will be a big emphasis for us over the next 25 practices.”
While some coaches choose to run their athletes as punishment, Pittman made a point on Thursday to say that doesn’t happen at Arkansas. The Hogs spend much of the offseason and summer working on conditioning and appear to be in very good shape as a whole.
“We don’t ever condition our guys because we’re mad at them,” Pittman said. “Because you’re trying to get them in shape, but you’re punishing them, you know what I mean? Back whenever we ran, it was like we ran a gazillion 100 yards, and it was because we had a bad practice. So, we believe the way we practice and more importantly even than that is the way we transition. When we get on and off the field, if you look to see how many times we transition in a practice, you’re looking at a lot of sprints at that point. As long as we do that in our transitions good, I believe we’ll have a team because Jamil Walker and his staff did a great job of getting them in shape. As long as we do that, I feel like we’re going to be in prime shape to go out there and compete.”
Arkansas will have Pittman and some athletes available to the media at the conclusion of today’s practice.