Sam Pittman’s staff had its nose to the ground recruiting until signing day. One day later the new Arkansas head coach put those coaches in front of the media to not only discuss his first recruiting class on the Hill but how those coaches will blend the newcomers into the existing roster and make an impact in the SEC.
To say that offensive line coach Brad Davis is attacking the challenge would be an understatement. Asked about the recent history of Arkansas’ offensive line issues, Davis said he came to Fayetteville to, “Kick butt.” Asked how long that might take he referred to the strength of the recruiting class that this staff pieced together in just eight weeks.
“It’s hard to tell us no,” Davis said of the players they went after. “I think we’re going to continue to get better and better and better. Players in here, we’re going to develop them. We’re going to treat ’em right and I think we’re going to get this thing rolling faster than people give us credit for.”
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kendal Briles echoed that statement when talking about the impact of the signing of four-star quarterback Malik Hornsby out of Fort Bend Marshall High School. (Missouri City, Texas) Hornsby is an outstanding run-pass quarterback. The kind various Razorback coaches have been trying to bring to Arkansas for years. Briles said Hornsby has already had an impact on the way recruits view this new staff.
“Seeing a guy like that who, at one point, had every offer in the country, to chose Arkansas and to want to come here and help us take this program to the next level, I think it’s huge,” Briles affirmed.
Hornsby will likely be able to redshirt this fall. Grad transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks is already on campus getting ready to go through spring football. Franks brings with him solid SEC playing experience from his time as a starter at Florida. At 6′ 6″ and 230 pounds, Franks is also a run-pass quarterback, though more pass than run with a cannon for an arm. Nobody is more excited about Franks and the new offense Briles is about to install than the receivers already on campus. Justin Stepp, the only holdover from Chad Morris’ staff said of his guys, “When coach Briles got hired, especially for the receivers, it kind of excited everybody. Excited me as a coach. A chance to learn this offense and be in the system.”
On the other side of the ball former Missouri head coach Barry Odom, who is charged with rebuilding the Hogs’ failing defense, has added some newcomers who may help right away. But Odom made it clear that he’s encouraged with the response he’s gotten from the returning players.
“They’re excited to be coached and the willingness to be coached speaks volumes of what kind of competitors they can be and what kind we will be, Odom stressed. “We got a lot of work to do. We know that. We’re not going to run from it.”
One of the biggest challenges will be to slow down teams on the ground while trying to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. New defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc said he’s ready to roll up his sleeves and go to work on that.
“When you get a new job there are usually some issues and I think that’s a lot of what coaching is,” LeBlanc explained. “It’s finding and identifying the problems and then fixing the problems. So this is going to be a great challenge for us . I think it can be done.”
The youngest member of the staff has already taken to heart something Pittman said in his first press conference back in December. Sam Carter, who came with Odom from Missouri, was a standout, All-Big 12 safety at TCU prior to starting his coaching career. While looking at video of various players that the previous staff had accumulated Carter spotted a lightly recruited two-star cornerback out of Suffield Academy in Suffield, Connecticut. Watching Khari Johnson pick off passes and make his way toward opposing goal lines, Carter quickly decided that the young man could make an impact at Arkansas.
“Some things you can’t teach,” Carter emphasized. “I can’t teach 4.4 speed. I can’t teach someone to catch the ball. You can either catch it or you can’t. Everybody that does all these drills, that’s cool but if you can’t catch, you can’t catch. There’s people in Connecticut that play football, I think. How far is the New England Patriots from Connecticut?”
The reaction was overwhelmingly positive on social media to Pittman’s staff’s initial day in front of the media. In about five weeks those fans will get a look at what kind of coaches they are when spring football begins. Arkansas will start spring ball almost a month later than the previous two seasons under Chad Morris. Pittman explained that he wants to give the players more time in the weight room and more time to work on conditioning before they begin working under the new staff.