FAYETTEVILLE — Redshirt sophomore quarterback KJ Jefferson is the leading candidate to replace Feleipe Franks at quarterback this season.
Jefferson signed with Arkansas in the Class of 2019 out of Sardis (Miss.) North Panola. He played behind three grad transfers in 2019 and 2020, but now he is in position to be the starting quarterback when the Razorbacks open the season against Rice.
“It feels amazing,” Jefferson said following Tuesday’s practice. “Just coming in as a freshman and just working my way up. Just building trust with teammates, coaches and the whole entire staff. Keeping my head on. Keep working and keep grinding. Building trust the whole time I’ve been here.”
Sam Pittman sees Jefferson as a good leader and the starting quarterback at this time.
“Yeah, I do,” Pittman said. “Team believes in him. Heck, I believe in him. He’s done a nice job. Again, his work ethic has been leadership in itself, and he’s becoming more vocal. He’s vocal as he needs to be to be honest with you, and I’ll tell you this; Feleipe, he wasn’t a very vocal guy, either. But his work ethic was, and that’s the same way with KJ. Right now K.J.’s our starter.”
In Saturday’s scrimmage that was open to the public, Jefferson completed 11 of 13 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns. On Tuesday, Jefferson talked about how he feels his spring has gone to this point.
“I feel like my spring been going pretty awesome,” Jefferson said. “Enjoying it, just taking it all in since this is my first spring soaking it all in.”
In two seasons, Jefferson has played in eight games with a couple of starts. He has completed 34 of 72 passes for 492 yards, three touchdowns and one interceptions. Jefferson has also rushed 58 times for 125 yards and four touchdowns. However, it was his start at Missouri last fall when Franks was nursing a shouler injury that really showed his talent. He completed 18 of 33 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing 13 times for 32 yards and a touchdown. How much confidence did he gain from that game?
“Basically going into that whole game week Feleipe was with me,” Jefferson said. “Me and him stayed after practice going over different types of film. He was just preparing me for the Missouri game. On top of that I had a good week of practice. Me and Coach (Kendal) Briles met a lot that week just going over the game plan with me if I were to start. At the game I just looked at my team and told them I was going to lead them and we just got to keep working.”
One of Arkansas’ standout offensive players is senior wide receiver Mike Woods. He likes what he has seen from Jefferson this spring.
“I think it’s going good,” Woods said. “KJ is getting a chance to get a lot of reps with the 1s, which he hasn’t had over the past couple years. I think he’s getting good. He’s getting better every day and our timing is getting better every day.
“One thing I’ve noticed that’s been a big difference with him is he’s being a lot more vocal. We have a lot more communication with him. Even when we come off the field and shoot him a text, or whatever, we just have a lot more communication between him and the receivers.”
Pittman said recently that he feels the quarterbacks now in place may be even a better fit for Briles’ offense than Franks.
“And as far as what I envision – Kendal’s offense – and I’ve watched it on tape before he was hired, I think who we have at quarterback right now is probably tailored to his offense a little bit more even than what Feleipe was,” Pittman said. “Because Feleipe was what I’m going to call a surprising runner. He ran better than what I thought he would. These other guys are certainly capable of being a running back as well. So they all can throw or they wouldn’t be here. But I think it will be more of Kendal putting in everything in his offense that he can vs. some of the the things he may not have had because of Feleipe and our depth chart.”
Jefferson feels the offense can be a good one and talked about his vision for how it should go based on what he has learned this spring.
“What I learned quickly is we brought in a lot of weapons on the outside receiver position,” Jefferson said. “We also have a lot of depth that we had last year. We had a couple of guys injured and now we’ve got a lot more playmakers at receiver. Can get the ball in space and make a move. I feel like that’s the biggest asset we have so far. The receiver depth and weapons outside I can get the ball to.”
Jefferson talked about some of the players who are flashing and making plays so far.
“Of course the old guys Mike Woods, Trey Knox and Treylon Burks,” Jefferson said. “For the young guys Jaden Wilson. Ketron (Jackson) is coming along. He’s coming off the knee surgery. Rocket (Raheim Sanders) the running back is coming along pretty smooth.”
Tight end Blake Kern caught 20 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns last season. He likes the quarterback room.
“Our quarterback room is fill of athletes,” Kern said. “With Malik (Hornsby) and KJ, they are just athletes out there playing ball and it is a great shakeup for us and like I said, a guy is going to have to step up. I think both of them guys are very capable of making plays in this league and I am excited to see them play.”
Offensive tackle Dalton Wagner is a big fan of Jefferson and what he’s doing at quarterback.
“KJ’s done an incredible job so far this spring,” Wagner said. “He’s been doing a fantastic job. He’s reading all his reads right. He’s been calling plays. He’s been trying to be a leader out there. He’s done a great job of it. He’s got some wheels on him, too. I like that. He can pull it and run it when he can and he does a great job with it.”
Arkansas is on spring break and will return to the practice fields on April 1.