Younger Players Catch Sam Pittman’s Eye While Preparing for Bowl Game, Team in Good Health, Some Seniors Returning

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FAYETTEVILLE — Going to a bowl game always presents several positives for a program and one of them is the younger players get a chance to showcase what they can do in scrimmages.

It’s no different for Arkansas and Sam Pittman this season. The team practiced twice last week and then again on Monday morning. Pittman talked about some of the younger players who caught his eye in the scrimmages last week.

“Yeah, they did,” Pittman said. “I like (Donte) Buckner, I like the running back. I liked Eric Thomas, he stood out. Kelin Burrle had a really good couple of days in the scrimmage. So those three guys definitely stood out in those scrimmages. That’s good, we had a good time. Jalen St. John, he looked good. It was good, full tackle for 20 minutes running clock one day. Eight inside runs and 30 reps more the next day for the young guys. Really good.”

Buckner is a walk-on running back from White Hall. Thomas is listed as a linebacker on the roster. He has practiced some at defensive end and tight end as well. He’s from Pensacola (Fla.) Booker T. Washington. Burrle is a linebacker from Harvey (La.) Helen Cox. St. John is an offensive lineman from St. Louis (Mo.) Trinity Catholic.

In addition, two true freshmen helped out at tight end this season. However, they were recruited to play other positions. Now Blayne Toll and Marcus Henderson will move back to the positions where they were recruited.

“Let’s start with Henderson first,” Pittman said. “I think he’s a left tackle. That’s where he’s playing now. Then you look at Toll. I had a conversation with Toll last week about gaining weight, about some other things. Just visiting with him. He asked if he could move back to defense and play defensive end. We obviously need a pass rusher over there and he’s long and fast. So I moved him back over to defense for the bowl game, and that’s where he’s going to stay. That’s where his heart is. I tried to move him over to tight end because of the need there. But he obviously wasn’t playing much, if any, over there at tight end. I think he can help us on defense. I think he can get big. We can get him bigger and the kid can really run. So as soon as he gets bigger I think he’ll help us over on the D-line.”

As far as the young players on the team, Pittman was asked if there’s any he could see projecting to be a starter next fall?

“Everybody develops differently,” Pittman said. “I’ve been very fortunate to have three first-round guys that redshirted on the O-line. They redshirted and ended up getting drafted in the first round, so every develops a little slower than others or a little faster than others. I like the Henderson kid, I like St. John. I like those guys on he offensive line, and of course KJ (Jefferson). We’ve seen him. Malik Hornsby. I think that’s going to be a really good battle at quarterback in the spring, along with some of the younger guys we brought in.”

In addition to expecting good help next fall from some younger players, Pittman is also hoping to get some seniors back as well with some already on board.

“I have at least four right now that I know are coming back,” Pittman said. “I don’t want to put that out there because I’m going to try to get them all to do it at the same time, to be honest with you. Then there’s another few that I’m going to talk to. The agents are kind of vultures out there. They basically, a lot of them tell the truth, a lot of them say what you want to hear.

“We’ve done our work with the NFL scouts and we have three or four guys here that we’re going to talk to about what their positioning is according to the 10-12 teams that we’ve gotten information from and then they’ll have a decision. I’d like to have that honestly before they go home on Wednesday simply because I think our kids trust me and I’m going to tell them exactly what the guys said because I don’t want them going home without talking to me and then getting calls from agents telling them they’re four rounds higher than what they really are. I’m not saying all agents are that way, I don’t mean that, but they want them, so they’re going to be as positive as they possibly can and I’m in the truth business.”

Pittman also talked about the health of the team and feels they are in good shape regarding injuries.

“Just simple as I can say it we’re healthy,” Pittman said. “(Offensive lineman Noah) Gatlin is still a question mark. I think everybody else unless they got hurt for the season will be available for the bowl.”

In addition, Pittman announced that defensive end Julius Coates won’t be playing in the bowl game.

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