HOGS: Tight ends, linebackers found lacking
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman doesn’t mince words regarding the two position groups needing the most immediate improvement.
Linebackers and tight ends, Pittman cited after Tuesday’s practice in full pads following Monday’s practice in shoulder pads and Friday’s full-scale scrimmage.
Pittman on the linebackers: “We haven’t really had a guy showing ‘This is my job, and I’m going to take it from you.’ That position is still a wide-open position of who’s going to be our starters.”
Pittman expected to see some things crystalize among the linebackers after reviewing the scrimmage video.
On Tuesday, however, Pittman said: “Well, I think that’s a position, one of the positions that we have to become a more physical group. We have to go make plays. That’s what linebackers are supposed to do. We can’t run into an offensive lineman and not shed him and make a play. That’s something we did not do Friday, and we’re certainly working on it.”
Pittman explained the plans implemented by defensive coordinator Barry Odom and linebackers coach Rion Rhoads.
“You can’t just say, ‘OK, well we’re going to go out there and do the same thing and get better,’” Pittman said. “You can’t bench everybody and be mad at everybody. You have to make specific drills for those guys to get better. We had some live drills today with the tight ends and the linebackers. We have to become a more physical team. That group (linebackers) is willing, and they’re physical. We’ve just got to get them to shed blocks and make tackles.”
Pittman said the tight ends need to block better as a group than they’ve blocked thus far.
“I think they know I think they have to become better blockers,” Pittman said. “Again, you can't just sit here and talk about, 'Well, guys have to get better.' You have to give them opportunities to get better, and you give them opportunities as individual to get better. We've made a big emphasis on them and the linebackers. We put them together today, and the bottom line is it's just the strain of the finish. It's the wanting to whip another man's tail. We’re getting closer with that tight end group."
DEFENSE WORE DOWN
Individually, cornerback Montaric Brown and defensive ends Dorian Gerald and junior college transfer Julius Coates have drawn Pittman praise most every scrimmage, but it was the offensive line and the offense’s endurance over the defense in Friday’s 90-degrees plus scrimmage on the grass practice field drawing Pittman’s plaudits on Tuesday.
“I thought our defense fatigued faster than our offense,” Pittman said, “and therefore they got outplayed. They had not been that way necessarily in the practices. So I anticipate that being amped up quite a little bit on Friday for our next scrimmage.”
The offense line drew Pittman’s praise for Friday’s scrimmage, but apparently was bested by the defense Tuesday.
“We protected very, very well (Friday) on the offensive line,” Pittman said. “The past two days I’d say we've run the ball pretty well, but we have not protected the quarterback. That's concerning. It's concerning to Coach Davis, and it’s concerning to the O-line. But I think we're progressing pretty well.”
GUARDS WIDE OPEN
Pittman likes offensive tackles Myron Cunningham, Dalton Wagner, Noah Gatlin and precocious true freshman Marcus Henderson. Ricky Stromberg, a starting guard as a true freshman last year, seems to have claimed the starting job at center. The guard slots are highly contested and include Ty Clary, the starting center in 2018 and 2019.
“I think Clary brings a lot of experience to the O-line, and we are looking at him as a possibility as a guard along with Luke Jones as a guard and a center,” Pittman said. “And Clenin as a guard as well as a center.”
Safety Jalen Catalon, requiring minor arthroscopic knee surgery after preseason drills began, is back in full pads and will scrimmage Friday. “Catalon is doing a real good job back there,” Pittman said.
Razorbacks 2019 Outdoor track sprinter All-American Josh Ogelsby’s speedy transition to being a complement to main running backs Rakeem Boyd and Trelon Smith hit a hurdle even as he impressed last Friday.
“He got dinged up in the scrimmage, so I don't know how long he's going to be out,” Pittman said. “But before his injury, he was a great addition to the team. He's very tough, obviously very fast.”