FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas is set to open spring football drills on Thursday, March 9, and will go five times before taking time off for spring break.
The Hogs will have a lot of unknowns when they hit the practice fields with several new coaches and players since the last time they took the field.
With new brings refreshing ideas, excitement and hopefully successful football. But with new or old coaches and players there’s always questions surrounding a program as they prepare for a new season.
Here’s five questions surrounding the football program.
Can KJ Jefferson stay healthy in 2023?
Jefferson made it through the 2021 season starting 13 games and thus one of the key reasons Arkansas was able to win nine games. Last season, Jefferson missed two games and both were losses. With Jacolby Criswell and Malachi Singleton it would seem the Hogs are much stronger in the quarterback room than recent seasons. But still Jefferson’s health is a key to the success Arkansas has. He has proven to be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC and few players are more valuable to their team than Jefferson is to Arkansas. He was the MVP of both bowl games Arkansas has played in the past two years and each was a win.
Will schedule be detriment to success?
Arkansas has an easier, actually much easier, non-conference schedule than last year. However, due to a scheduling quirk of sorts (SEC seemingly has a bunch of those when it comes to Arkansas) the Razorbacks won’t play a conference game in Fayetteville until Saturday, Oct. 21. Unbelievably, that is the eighth game of the season and fifth SEC game. The Texas A&M game in Arlington’s AT&T Stadium is considered a home game so thus the odd scheduling. Before the Bulldogs come to Fayetteville for homecoming, the Hogs will have gone to LSU (Sept. 23), played A&M in Arlington (Sept. 30), traveled to Ole Miss (Oct. 7) and at Alabama (Oct. 14). That’s a brutal schedule. Following the Mississippi State game the Hogs get a bye week. Then on Saturday, Nov. 4 the Razorbacks go to Florida (didn’t they just go to Gainesville in 2020?). The schedule, though late, does ease up after that. The Hogs will be in Fayetteville the remainder of the season. FIU comes in on Nov. 11, Auburn Nov. 18 and then Missouri closes out the regular season either on Friday, Nov. 24, or Saturday, Nov. 25. The Razorbacks open the season on Saturday, Sept. 2, in Little Rock hosting Western Carolina. The Catamounts went 6-5 in 2022. Kent State (Sept. 9) and BYU (Sept. 16) come to Fayetteville before the Arkansas road tour via the SEC begins,
What will offense and defense look like?
Arkansas has a new offensive coordinator in Dan Enos and co-defensive coordinators in Travis Williams and Marcus Woodson. Enos spent three seasons at Arkansas from 2015-17, but that was under Bret Bielema. He did work with Sam Pittman in 2015. Pittman left the Hogs after the season to go to Georgia. Enos’ 2015 offense led by quarterback Brandon Allen was outstanding and fun to watch. Will Enos run more of a pro offense with the Hogs like he did previously? Kendal Briles used a fast tempo style of offense. Look for Enos to use the tight ends more in his offense. Enos used Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle in an outstanding way in 2015. Enos does have Jefferson for one more season and will certainly highlight the quarterback’s talent in his scheme. Williams and Woodson will replace Barry Odom who is now the head coach at UNLV. Look for the Hogs to play more four-man fronts and also have a more aggressive defense. Having new coordinators on both sides of the ball makes the spring much more interesting.
Can transfer wide receivers make big impacts?
Arkansas returns Bryce Stephens, Jaedon Wilson, Isaiah Sategna, Sam Mbake and others at wide receiver, but will need the four transfers to make an impact. Hillsdale College’s Isaac TeSlaa, Texas A&M Commerce’s Andrew Armstrong, Bowling Green’s Tyrone Broden and preferred walk-on Marlon Crockett will all need to be in the mix. The size of these four players gives the Hogs a nice ingredient at wide receiver. Kenny Guiton was able to land 6-4, 6-4, 6-5 and 6-7 wide receivers. All come from smaller schools, but that didn’t stop many of the national powers from recruiting them. Last season, Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers topped the receiving chart despite being transfers and only playing one year in Fayetteville. Haselwood caught 59 passes for 702 yards and three touchdowns. Landers grabbed 47 passes for 901 yards and eight touchdowns. He was very good in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Both were outstanding. That is the kind of impact Guiton, Enos and Pittman need from the new group.
Can Woodson and Deron Wilson fix the secondary?
Woodson and Deron Wilson are both new to Arkansas and they are in charge of fixing a secondary that wasn’t very good in 2022. They do get Dwight McGlothern and Quincey McAdoo back at the cornerback spots as well as Hudson Clark at safety. Big things are expected from Alfahiym Walcott, 6-2, 220, after coming from Baylor. Walcott could prove to be one of the better safeties in the SEC. Arkansas also signed Baylor cornerback Lorando Johnson. They have some key returning players who started some at various times with Malik Chavis among them. Chavis can play any of the spots in the secondary. Arkansas also signed some very good talent from the high school ranks. Some of the true freshmen will be expected to play in 2023. Improving the secondary will go a long way to helping Arkansas improve on a 7-6 record.