HOGS: 2-deep for Saturday's opener
FAYETTEVILLE - Barring injuries or COVID-19 quarantines, the Arkansas starting lineup appears mostly set for its season opener against Georgia.
At 3 p.m. Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, first-year head coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks and Coach Kirby Smart’s No. 4 Bulldogs open their entirely SEC schedule. The SEC Network will televise the game.
Other than either-or listings at tight end between redshirt freshman Hudson Henry and true freshman Blayne Toll, junior Dalton Wagner and sophomore Noah Gatlin at right offensive tackle, and at defensive tackle between graduate transfer Xavier Kelly of Clemson and returning sophomore letterman Isaiah Nichols of Springdale, Pittman’s depth chart posts definite starters and backups.
The offensive backfield starts via University of Florida graduate transfer Felipe Franks at quarterback and returning senior 1,133-yard rusher Rakeem Boyd at running back with redshirt freshman QB KJ Jefferson and Trelon Smith, the transfer running back from Arizona State, the top reserves.
The three starting wide receivers in offensive coordinator Kendal Briles’ attack are sophomores Treylon Burks and Trey Knox and junior Mike Woods with Southern University transfer Kendall Catalon and seniors De’Vion Warren and Fayetteville High grad Tyson Morris the top reserves.
The offensive line starts sophomore center Ricky Stromberg, redshirt left guard Brady Latham, redshirt freshman right guard Beaux Limmer, senior left tackle Myron Cunningham and Wagner or Gatlin at right tackle. Gatlin is also listed the top backup to Cunningham at left tackle. Senior Ty Clary is the backup center and junior Shane Clenin and sophomore Ryan Winkel the backup guards.
After much competition at middle and weakside linebackers, senior Grant Morgan of Greenwood and junior incumbent Bumper Pool held the first-team status they had going into preseason camp.
Up front, junior college transfer Julius Coates and senior Dorian Gerald start at defensive ends with senior Jonathan Marshall at one tackle and either Kelly or Nichols starting at the other.
The starting secondary features via Arkansas State graduate transfer Jerry Jacobs and junior incumbent Montaric Brown of Ashdown at the corners, incumbent junior Joe Foucha and emerging redshirt freshman Jalen Catalon at the safeties and sophomore incumbent Greg Brooks at nickel.
The secondary sports two true freshmen as backups in safety Myles Slusher and cornerback Khari Johnson, and veterans Jarques McClellion at corner and Myles Mason at safety and LaDarrius Bishop at nickel.
Levi Draper, a graduate transfer via the University of Oklahoma, and sophomore letterman Andrew Parker, respectively, back up Pool and Morgan as linebackers.
The backup defensive line, aside from the Kelly and Nichols either-or, includes redshirt freshman tackle Taurean Carter and sophomore ends Mateo Soli and redshirt freshman Eric Gregory.
Pittman was asked about his true freshmen on the 2-deep, tight end Toll and defensive backs Slusher and Johnson.
Toll of Hazen was recruited as a defensive end. During the summer, he was moved to tight end, then briefly back to defensive end and finally permanently to tight end as Pittman and tight ends coach Jon Cooper searched for depth.
“I think we’ve got the game plan where he’ll know what to do,” Pittman said. “He does have a lot of speed. He’s probably a little bit faster than Hudson would be. Hudson’s really had a good couple of weeks, so I’m feeling better and better about that tight end room.”
Regarding defensive backs Slusher and Johnson, Pittman said, “Very talented and mature. In order to get on the field early as freshman you have to be mature. You have to be smart. You have to understand the schematics of the game."
As 24-point favorites, Smart's Bulldogs wield an advantage about everywhere, except at running back where Boyd is second-team preseason All-SEC, and at QB.
Pittman has believed from the January day Franks arrived that he would be Arkansas' starting quarterback.
Georgia has scrambled at QB since 2019 junior starter Jake Fromm turned pro, and Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman opted to concentrate on the 2021 NFL draft.
They’re gone, but Pittman insists it’s still a long week for Arkansas’ defensive staff. They prepare for Smart starting either redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis or via the University of Southern California transfer quarterback JT Daniels.
“With JT. Daniels, you can go back and watch the (USC vs.) Fresno State game from last season,” Pittman said. “I mean he’s just throwing darts and at any angle. He’s a shortstop. He’s a right-fielder. He can do anything he wants with the football. And of course, I was there at Georgia with D’Wan, and we know what kind of arm he has. He would be maybe a little bit more of a double threat because he certainly can run. He can actually fly.”
The Razorbacks practice in full pads again Tuesday before tapering Wednesday to “shells” and shorts.