By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman was pleased with Arkansas’ second scrimmage of the preseason with the Cincinnati game two weeks away.

Pittman praised the defensive effort on Saturday compared to the first scrimmage one week ago.

“We had a get the ball back situation at the end where we put 2:07 (on the clock),” Pittman said. “The offense is up by one. Defense has to get the ball back, obviously. Whatever is left over, whether you have one timeout, two timeouts, whatever you do. You punt the ball if you can get the ball back, and then the twos go out and run a two-minute situation with the offense at that point being down a point and trying to get the field goal. In both of those situations where it was ones starting in a lead on offense, the defense won both of those situations. Which was good to see, to be honest with you.

“I’m not rooting for the offense or defense, but I thought the defense played a lot better today than they did last week. Which a lot of times you say that and think the offense didn’t play very well. That’s not the case. I just thought the defense made more plays, made the close plays more this week than they did last week.”

Safety Jalen Catalon feels good about where the defense is with the Hogs set to start focusing in on the Bearcats later next week.

“From the defensive side, we look really good,” Catalon said. “The D-line is pushing really well. We can go from one to two deep and both be really effective. The linebackers are playing really well. There are about six or seven guys in there that are looking to be ones or twos. Coach (Michael) Scherer has got a handful of guys in there that can go play.  

“On the back end, I think our depth is so good because we have so much experience of guys playing and being in games, being in hostile environments and knowing college football is. The young guys are catching on too. For the whole group as well, on the back end, we’re looking really good.”

Arkansas is still searching for its two starting cornerbacks. Pittman talked about where the team is there with both scrimmages now in the books.

“There’s still a battle there with Malik (Chavis), Nudie (Dwight McGlothern), DayDay (Ladarrius Bishop),” Pittman said. “Maybe DayDay, Malik, Nudie, obviously Hudson Clark. Hudson’s really played the best of all those guys throughout the first two weeks. Khari Johnson is playing better, playing a lot better actually. Keuan Parker would be another guy in that mix who’s getting better. Think he’ll really help us on special teams, as well. Most all those guys will help us, but that’s kind of where we’re at. We’re in kind of a three-guy battle with, close 4-5, with Nudie being close. But right now, we walked out there today with DayDay and Hudson Clark starting for us.”

In the recruiting Class of 2022 the Hogs added two transfer defensive ends. Landon Jackson came from LSU and Jordan Domineck from Georgia Tech. Pittman liked what both did on Saturday.

“I think they’re better than they were two weeks ago, both of them, if that makes sense,” Pittman said. “Neither of them played this spring, so you’re really learning about them in – I don’t know how many practices today was. What is it, 14 or something like that? You kind of are learning a little bit more about them. It’s like anything, until you know what you’re doing, you can’t really see a guy’s athletic ability because he’s always thinking all the time, and that slows him down. So, I think both of them are getting comfortable.

“I think Barry (Odom), his last install was on Friday. But it’s not the overwhelming volume that it’s been before. I think the kids are starting to get comfortable with themselves and the position they are. And it takes a while to learn how we practice. I mean, it just takes a while. And then once you learn that and learn the expectations of practice, all that stuff is in your mind all the time. I just think now they’re relaxing, and we’re able to see their true athletic ability.”

Catalon watched as Domineck had to adjust from Georgia Tech’s defense to the one at Arkansas, but now is seeing what had everyone with the Hogs excited when they landed the defensive end.

“Jordan’s had a really good camp,” Catalon said. “The first couple days, you’ve got the little jitters, and you’re with a new team. You’re not sure what to expect out of a new team. He was just trying to adjust and get his feet wet. But once those first two practice hit, he took full strides. You can tell that he’s a good player. Not just in a scheme standpoint, but off his ability to rush the quarterback and chase him down as well. He’s surprised us with how fast he is on the D-line. He’s been doing really good, along with the other guys on the D-line.”

Pittman also heaped praise on Catalon’s camp. Catalon is considered Arkansas’ best professional prospect and opted to return for 2022 season rather than go to the NFL. Pittman likes how Catalon has played.

“Man, it’s been good,” Pittman said. “He makes a lot of plays. I don’t know, he looks fast. Maybe to y’all, he’s always looked fast. But man, he looks fast. His eyes seem to be in the right place all the time. Great leader, him and (Simeon) Blair. Blair, too, has had an outstanding camp. A lot of them have. But Cat’s like he never missed a beat. You know, he did miss seven games I think last year. He missed six and then the bowl game. He’s very confident leading us well, as well as (Bumper) Pool. Like I’ve said before, we have three levels of leaders in there with (Isaiah) Nichols and then Pool and then Catalon. Of course Blair as well. Any time you have three levels and three leaders on each level, you can pretty much have an accountable defense and fly around to the football, which we’re doing.”

Catalon was asked to appraise his own preseason camp.

“I think my camp’s been really good,” Catalon said. “I’ve been trying to work on being consistent and being a vocal guy more for the defense. Be a guy that people can look at for energy, or look at a guy that’s going to go out in camp and strain for his defense. But I think my fall camp’s been really good. And the seven games I was off? Yeah, you’d best believe I’m be ready when September 3rd comes around.”

As good as Catalon has been, and that is very good when he’s healthy and on the field, he talked about how he can get better.

“For me it’s just focusing on the key parts that I get from coaching that I need to work on, whether that’s just being in a stance or if that’s making sure I’m reading the right guy, being the right leverage in man press or off-man,” Catalon said. “Just little details, I would say. There’s little things that I know I can add to my game or just kind of correct in my game to elevate it even more. But the main thing for me, I would just say, not even from a playing standpoint, just a leadership standpoint. Making sure I’m being vocal for the guys and making sure because I know how me playing this game for so long now and being here I know how those can get during the season. Even during practice and fall camp can get hard, brutal. So you know, guys might look somewhere past a coach to get that second gear to keep going and keep pushing. I just want to be that vocal guy for the defense and just be that leader on the field as far as between the white lines as well.”

Pittman said there was fewer explosive plays on offense today. Was that an emphasis for the secondary?

“Most definitely,” Catalon said. “Yeah. For me, especially when it came to the back end. I mean, I made it known that last scrimmage, they had too many plays out that we had to compete out there and go out there and show what the defense can be about, especially from the backend standpoint as well. So I made that a statement and we came out there and we played really well. There’s still a couple mistakes here and there that we’ve got to clean up, but they’re easy fixes for sure. But as far as the defense, I think we played with a lot better energy today. We were a lot more vocal and a lot more into it. Not saying we weren’t last scrimmage based off what I heard (remember he wasn’t there last week because of a family emergency). But I think this scrimmage, we were definitely more upbeat and were more prepared for the tempo of how scrimmage was going to be. I was proud of the defense, too, and the offense as well for giving us a great look and playing good as well.”

With Sunday off, Catalon talked about his plans when away from football tomorrow.

“I’m going fishing tomorrow,” Catalon said. “That’s all I know, but you’ve got to enjoy the off days while you can because you don’t get many. Anytime you get them, you’ve got to get recover and whatever you do on the outside, whether it’s fishing, hanging out, enjoying yourself. You know, that’s something I like to do, so I’ll probably just watch film and fish.”