FAYETTEVILLE — As with any football program, leaders are needed to step up and apparently that is happening at the University of Arkansas.
During a Zoom call on Thursday, Sam Pittman was asked who were some of the leaders emerging at this time?
“That’s a great question,” Pittman said. “I’ll start with defense first. (Jarques) McClellion, (Devin) Bush, Mo (Montaric) Brown, those guys in the secondary have really been as a hard a working group as we have. I’m really impressed with them. Newcomer wise, Jerry Jacobs has been a nice leader. You go at linebacker, (Bumper) Pool has done well.
“I mean how do you know? They are not hitting, but I’m talking about learning and being on time and talking to the team, I assume that’s what you’re asking. (Levi) Draper’s been good. Xavier Kelly has been doing an outstanding job. (Jonathan) Marshall on the defensive line front. On offense (Feleipe) Franks has done a good job and of course Rakeem (Boyd). And then the line it’s hard to segment out a guy in there because they’re all, they work well together. Myron (Cunningham) is a guy in there that would possibly have the most leadership skills along with Dalton Wagner.”
As far as standing out for their football play it’s hard for Pittman to name players since the drills have been non-contact ones so far.
“Guys, I hate to be vague and this, but you guys realize we’ve been walking?,” Pittman said. “I mean, it’s hard. I could name the guys that are doing really well mentally and all that, but it’s really hard to figure out who can play good and who can’t. We’re in a walk-through with no pads.
“But, with that said, I’ve been with how … I like our running back group. I like them. I think we have some depth at linebacker. I love our secondary and the way they work. I think we’re going to have some depth at O-line, and wide receiver-wise, I think we’ve got to get more depth there. I think everybody believes we’re talented there with the front few guys. We’ve got to develop some depth there. And then the D-line is probably the one that I’ve been most happy with as far as what my mind might have thought how we’re going to be versus how we’re doing right now. That group I think is doing really well.”
What about the defensive line has impressed so much?
“I think Jonathan Marshall’s done a really good job,” Pittman said. “And then if you look at him and Isaiah Nichols and Eric Gregory, Xavier Kelly, (Julius) Coates. Those guys, I’m just saying what my mind might have thought where they would be at this point, I don’t think that about them. I think they’re big, they’re guys that understand, they can move for their size and I just feel like they can be a good group.”
Julius Coates signed with Arkansas in December and then enrolled at midterm. He has made a strong impression on Pittman as well.
“I love him,” Pittman said. “He’s done really well. You run out there at different times and you have Marshall and Nichols and Kelly and Coates, them guys are big guys. They can hold up against the size of the SEC offensive linemen and they can move. I’ve been really pleased with Coates and he’s working awful hard. He did well today in the team run this morning.”
Senior defensive end Dorian Gerald is someone who has also caught Pittman’s attention.
“To be honest with you, and these meetings, there’s so many guys to talk about and I missed Dorian and I shouldn’t have,” Pittman said. “He really, really looks good. He’s got tremendous foot speed and he’s another guy who should be a leader on our football team. Very vocal guy and has been working his tail off, so I’ve been really pleased with him. Of course, and I will be when we put pads on, but we haven’t yet, but I promise I will be. He’s too talented for us not to be.”
The offensive and defensive lines also appear to be going to get some good help from players who redshirted last season.
“(Noah) Gatlin has done well,” Pittman said. “I’ve been impressed with Luke Jones. I don’t know if he redshirted; I think he was more of a transfer. He redshirted, he transferred. Who else up there would have redshirted last year? I’ll tell you who’s been doing good is (Taurean) Carter. Yeah, he’s done well. Who else am I missing? (Jalen) Catalon, he’s done well.
“It’s a hard question for me because I can’t really remember who redshirted last year, but the young guys, those would be some of them. Marcus Miller, he’s back and ready to go. He’s moving well. So, those would be the guys, I guess, right off the top of my head.”
One of the players that Pittman and Justin Stepp are counting on for depth at wide receiver is senior Tyson Morris. As a junior, Morris caught 13 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown. The former walk-on is the son of former Razorback basketball standout Isaiah “Butch” Morris.
“Well, he is playing wide receiver,” Pittman said. “I think he’s got speed and is big. He’s done a nice job for us. What we do in our walk-throughs we split them. So there’s basically who you might have on the depth chart as a one, then the freshmen and then the twos and threes. The depth chart has been moved all over the place because how would you have a depth chart right now but you have to have one to go to practice. All these kids are getting reps, but Tyson has looked good in there and I tell you he has done a nice job in the walk with special teams as well. We’re proud of him and think he’s gonna help us at wide receiver.”
Franks is showing leadership after moving over from Florida. Franks has the experience that Pittman likes at quarterback and is someone who has enjoyed success in the SEC.
“He’s approaching it like a guy who’s been an SEC starter for two-plus years,” Pittman said. “He’s a grown man. He’s mature. He’s approaching it like he’s been there before. I think that’s very important for us, especially because we didn’t have spring ball. But we have a guy on our football team that’s played a lot of football at quarterback and won a New Year’s Day bowl as the starting quarterback. We have a veteran guy and I think that’s important. I didn’t not just say that he’s won the starting job. How can do you do that in walk-throughs? But I did say that we’re awful glad that he’s on our football team.”
The Razorbacks will open the 2020 season on Saturday, Sept. 26.