Arkansas’ Special Teams Much Improved, But Still a Few Battles Going on, Nathan Parodi Set to Return

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Photo by Marty Houston.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ special teams have been much better this season than in 2020, but there’s still some battles going on.

In addition, Arkansas will get its punt returner Nathan Parodi back this week. Parodi, who was injured in the Mississippi State game, didn’t play against LSU. This season, Parodi has returned 15 punts for 163 yards. His best game was in a 45-3 victory over UAPB when he returned four punts for 114 yards including an 81-yard touchdown. Sam Pittman was asked about Parodi’s status for the Alabama game.

“Yeah,” Pittman said. “He practiced yesterday, and I think he’ll be ready to go.”

True freshman Bryce Stephens filled in for Parodi against LSU. He returned two punts for 26 yards in the 16-13 overtime win for the Hogs. He also returned a punt for 27 yards against UAPB. Since Stephens is a true freshman to continue playing him would burn his redshirt year. Pittman addressed that on Wednesday.

“That’s on each individual basis what we want to do,” Pittman said. “Obviously, we would play Bryce if we needed to. If we feel like he’s our best punt returner then we would continue to do that. If you’ve got some guys who haven’t played significant reps, 10-15 percent of the total reps on their side of the ball, you would like to redshirt them. But it’s very difficult to have those four weeks between the final game and bowl prep if you’re going to preserve the redshirt with no chance of participation in the bowl. So, you would like to have no more than three games played that way as their prepping for the bowl, I think the bowl prep would be better for them knowing they can play in the game. So, he’s a little bit in that situation. We’re kind of watching it. We’re not going to play him insignificant reps, but if we need him, we’ll go ahead and use his redshirt year. We’re very aware of him and would like to hold it until the bowl game if at all possible.”

Pittman did praise the true freshman though for going to LSU and fielding punts as well as he did.

“I thought Bryce did a real good job of handling punts,” Pittman said. “He had a chance if he took another left on one return he still be running, you know, but I thought he did a really good job of handling that. I mean, could you imagine I mean, he’s that was only his third game to even play and going there in that atmosphere and you’re going back there, it’s probably a lonely situation back there. But he did a great job and and had some nice returns. And one one I remember vividly over 20 yards and, and I was real proud of him and again, it’s one thing to go back there if you’ve been playing all year, but he hadn’t. But we felt very confident and comfortable that he could catch the football and obviously he’s, you know, won state in the 100 So we know he’s got speed.”

Reid Bauer has been Arkansas’ punter for the majority of the season. He punted seven times against LSU for an average of 43.7 yards. He also executed a fake field goal and ran 23 yards for a first down. Sam Loy did punt once for 37 yards. Pittman talked about the punting game.

“I mean we kind of have a battle weekly it seems like Reid’s been when and all those we just really need to just we’re run a little bit more of a roll punt with Sam and and that and you know we need to settle down Reid just a little bit in that game and Reid came back, punted really well and after that, but yeah, there’s just a battle there,” Pittman said. “I don’t look for this way to be anything different than, you know, Reid will be out there. Obviously, Sam can beat him out. But right now I think we’re, we’re pretty set with Reid in there.”

One area where Pittman has no worries is at kicker with Cam Little already successfully kicked 17 field goals including the game-winning boot against LSU from 37 yards away. But does the other team having a good kicker play into decisions Pittman makes in the kicking game?

“You know LSU had a guy that could kick it, basically anywhere from the 40 which would be a 57-yarder, and yeah it effected,” Pittman said. “We know all of that. We come in off of pregame and we get all of the details. The opponent archive whether he could kick it from the 33 to the north end, 37 to the south end or whatever. It’s not 37 it’s usually max 35 that we deal with. But we get all that information. I’m very, very comfortable with Cam. Very comfortable. As a matter of fact I didn’t really have a question of if he was going to make it or not the other night, but it was strictly about can we protect it? Which we’ve been good there this year about protecting on field goals. I really didn’t have a fear that he wasn’t going to make it. I didn’t really when we decided to fake it I thought the time was right. We ended up we got three so you know, it was a lot easier field goal, but I don’t know we benefitted point’s wise by the fake. But I certainly thought if we could get it we might go down and score seven. But I trust him big-time. That includes trust in (Jordan) Silver and trust in Bauer. They’re the snap and holder. I think Cam is really an asset for us and it does make a difference what the opponent has as well.”

Arkansas will hit the practice fields again today as the No. 21 Razorbacks continue to prepare for No. 2 Alabama.

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