FAYETTEVILLE — Junior safety Jayden Johnson has been one of the positive surprises this preseason and the opening game.

Johnson had five tackles, including four solo, a forced fumble and interception in Saturday’s win over Western Carolina in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. But it was what he did on Dwight McGlothern’s interception that had Sam Pittman talking on Monday. Johnson blocked a Western Carolina offensive lineman to the ground as McGlothern made his return.

“One of them smacked each other,” Pittman said. “Something happened, but the big guy didn’t get up for a minute.”

Is that something Pittman thinks Johnson would have done last fall?

“You know, isn’t there a lot to be said for when your mind will allow you to think and believe and how it affects your life and your play and your relationship at home and all kinds of stuff,” Pittman said. “He’s in a really good space, and he did it. I didn’t do it. Ben Sowders didn’t do it. He did it. He just decided hey, let me look in the mirror and see what I can fix, and he did.

“But I agree with you. You talk about open-field tackling, well, he caused a fumble and then had an open-field tackle it was just him and a lot of space. Now I think Taurean Carter or somebody was coming from inside-out, but just a lot of positive things and I think he’ll tell you he can get better. But yeah, I’m really proud of him. You know I talked about Jayden, I wish I could say I’m a good coach and it’s this, that and the other, but it didn’t have nothing to do with me.”

But this isn’t just something Johnson has done since preseason practice started.

 “He’s done really well,” Pittman said. “Ever since spring ball he’s done really well. He had to earn his spot. I mean, he did, and he’ll tell you, but he did. He’s playing good football. Very physical guy and I’ve called him out in front of the team, him and Jaedon Wilson both about how they have changed. They’re the only ones who can change. In life, if you’re waiting for somebody else to change you, you’re going to be left out. They both changed their attitude about what they wanted and what they’re willing to work for. I’m proud of them. I’m proud of all the kids, but those two guys in particular because they’ve come a long way.”

Linebacker Jaheim Thomas, who transferred in from Cincinnnati this summer, is a big fan of Johnson and taken notice of the way he’s playing.’

 “Well, he’s a playmaker, man,” Thomas said. “He always brings juice to practice every day, so seeing him out there, fly around and he’s a ballhawk, too. So just watching him make plays and just stay consistent — consistency is the main thing, so him being consistent and making plays is big for him.”

While Pittman refuses to take any credit for Johnson’s turnaround from last year, the 6-foot-2, 206-pound safety does credit the coaching staff.

“I would say just the coaches that we brought in, they helped a lot and just sat me down and talked to me about how I’ve got to be consistent,” Johnson said. “So, that was something that I worked on during the offseason, and I got a lot stronger and faster. Just our group, our DB group, it’s happiness, peaceful, and we like to have fun. That helped a lot.”

Johnson was listed as an “or” with Hudson Clark on the depth chart last week, but got the start.

“Yeah, I see myself as a starter,” Johnson said. “I just had to go out and prove it every day and stay consistent. Today, it was just a preview of what it’s been in practice. I’ve just got to keep going.”

Pittman actually sees both Johnson and Clark, who is very versatile as starters. Pittman was asked if Clark is considered a backup at several spots in the secondary?

“No, not necessarily,” Pittman said. “I think he just didn’t get to start, per se. But, to answer part of your question, yes, he can play multiple positions, yes. I do think he has a great opportunity to start this week, but I think the guy who really came along was Jayden Johnson. So he made it difficult between Hud and Al (Alfahiym Walcott). I think Hud had a good game, obviously he had a pick and things of that nature, so he’s the starter whether he runs out there or not. But yes, and Snaxx (Lorando Johnson) is kind of the same way. Snaxx can play a couple of spots too out there. But Hud’s got as much value as anybody on defense because he’s A) a good player and B) he’s played so much.”

Arkansas’ defense created five turnovers and limited the Catamounts to 13 points, including a meaningless field goal on the last play of the game.

“Everybody just playing together and being where they’re supposed to be,” Johnson said. “We;ve got this thing called bluetooth, so it’s just basically we’ve all got to come together to be as one, to be great. We are just attacking the ball. Our coaches preach just going to get the ball, turnovers and that was our main focus for today.”

Some were concerned with how Arkansas’ focus would be since they were playing Western Carolina last week and Kent State this one.

“You know, it was great,” Johnson said of focus for the Catamounts. “We talked about it. Don’t take them light, take them as if they were somebody in the SEC. I feel like we did a great job at that. There’s some things that we’ve got to work on. We’re going to get that fixed, that way when we come out and play a tougher team, it’s going to be the same thing.”

Johnson and the Razorbacks will be in Fayetteville on Saturday to host Kent State at 3 p.m. and the game televised on the SEC Network.