FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas continues to make strides on both sides of the football as Sam Pittman is set to enter his third season as head coach.
The defense needed a lot of work when Pittman got to Arkansas and he hired Barry Odom to coordinate that side of the ball. It has paid off as Arkansas continues to add more talent on that side of the football. Pittman has wanted a better pass rush from the defense and it seems to be progressing in that direction.
“We did nine on nine today, which was two on two with seven on seven behind it,” Pittman said. “Obviously Cody (Kennedy) and our O-line needs a little bit more work on twist games and things of that nature. The difference I see in our line is the explosion off the ball and that we are moving the line of scrimmage backward a lot of the time in our pass rush games. We’re attacking the tackles more on the edge and making them move their feet. I think Deke (Adams) has done a really good job and the kids have gotten close to his teaching and things he’s done. But I think we’re getting better there. Obviously I’m excited about the two transfer guys coming, the one here and the one coming. We’ll see how they can rush the passer.”
While Pittman is still waiting to get Jordan Domineck from Georgia Tech on campus he does have LSU transfer Landon Jackson. Even though Jackson hasn’t practiced this spring due to injury he has been around the program and coaches. Pittman talked about his vision for Jackson as well as a high school standout from Maumelle who will arrive in the summer.
“Yeah, well, we recruited him to play defensive end,” Pittman said of Jackson. “We recruited him for rush ability. He certainly is big enough to play run. But our thoughts are him and for that matter, I’m talking about the guys that aren’t here yet, for that matter, Nico Davillier would be a defensive end. He’s a big man, but I think he’s talented enough to get to the passer. To me, that’s what we, we’ll either have to blitz to get to him, or we’ll have to get in the four-man line and go get him. But right now, I think we’re getting better at doing that but we’ve got a ways to go. But I like how these five practices on the defensive line.”
Both new coaches on the staff are on defense. Adams has the defensive line while Dominique Bowman is in charge of the cornerbacks. Pittman is pleased with both hires.
“Yeah, they really have,” Pittman said. “Dominique hit the ground running, so did Deke, in recruiting. They’re both really good. They’re getting guys on campus, and communication and all those things I believe. You know what happens when you start bragging on the guys that you hire, some people might take that as you are negative about the guys that leave. That’s certainly not the case. We’re the University of Arkansas. If I have somebody leave, well I’m going to replace him and hopefully with one that brings something different to the table and things like that. That’s what Dominique and Deke have done. They’ve come in, and I believe if you ask both position groups about them you’d get rave reviews. And I think you would feel it and not just, ‘Well, they’re just saying what they think we want to hear.’ I think you could see it and feel it. Anytime you get the kids feeling about you that way, they’re going to play well and play hard.”
Latavious Brini came over from Georgia where he started several games for the Bulldogs. Pittman is familiar with the safety and nickel back from his days with Georgia.
“I think with Brini, Brini played the nickel at Georgia,” Pittman said. “When we recruited him, he wanted the chance to play safety, which for us would be boundary safety. I think it’s been a little bit of a learning curve for him. Honestly, it would be a learning curve if he played the same position terminology-wise and then knowing the kids and all that stuff. I think over the last couple of practices, we’ve seen the Brini that we thought we recruited and the Brini that we knew when we were at Georgia. So, I think we’ll move him at some point to nickel as well and get some type of combo role in there. However, (Jayden) Johnson is playing really good out there. So, safety and nickel, I think there will be two interchangeable guys is what I’m saying when it’s all said and done.”
Safety got another addition when junior Khari Johnson was moved there and Malik Chavis went back to cornerback. Cornerback also has Dwight McGlothern, another transfer from LSU.
“Yeah, we feel pretty good about our corners, how they’re playing right now,” Pittman said. “We need a little bit of help back to the middle safety so we moved Khari back there. McGlothern has played well. He’s long, a very confident guy. He’s played well, along with … what happened and you guys know it, we moved Chavis to corner as well. So with him, (Hudson) Clark obviously and you have DaeDae (LaDarrius Bishop), we felt we could help the team and help the player in moving Khari.”
When Pittman came to Arkansas they had won one SEC game in three years. The first season the Hogs went 3-7 against an All-SEC schedule. Then in 2021 they improved to 9-4 including a win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl. How far has the program progressed in three years?
“I feel like the team’s a lot further,” Pittman said. “I’m more comfortable, you know, with scheduling and urgency of practice. I’m more comfortable personally as a head coach. And a part of that may be because we’ve kept our three coordinators. That helps too. We kept our strength coach, that helps too. I think our team, I believe our team it was a fight of getting them all to buy in, getting them all to get off the sideline and get on the field. You know, a lot of questions. ‘Do I really want to be here or not?’ Not me personally, I’m talking about the kids. you know, ‘Do I like it enough to stay?’ And I don’t believe we have any of that problem now. So it’s a lot more fun because you got kids that want to be, all of them, they want to be out there. They may not like where they’re at on the depth chart or something like that. But I feel like we’ve got a team that would run through a brick wall together and that’s when you start, as long as you play hard and you’re tough and you’re loyal, you’ve got a chance.”
Arkansas will hold an open scrimmage on April 16 at 11 a.m.