What Sam Pittman Said During His First Preseason Radio Show | Panda Anku

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas soccer coach Sam Pittman wrapped up his team’s training camp Wednesday night and then made the quick trip to the Catfish Hole for the season premiere of his weekly radio show.

It’s clear that the third-year coach of the Razorbacks likes the look of his team, which ranks 19th in the Associated Press preseason poll. Arkansas begins prep Thursday for its Sept. 3 season opener against No. 23 Cincinnati.

“There’s not really what I call a weakness out there,” Pittman said of his team. “Some teams do and they have to hide them. We really don’t have to hide now.”

The Razorbacks don’t just have talent, they want it. Pittman said he was pleased with the field effort since preseason practice began on Aug. 5.

“When we came to Arkansas, we wanted people, the fans, to be able to go to the games … and go with a good feeling about the Hogs,” Pittman said. “We arrive. We haven’t reached our goal yet, but we’re on the right track.”

As he has done throughout the offseason, Pittman attributed his team’s level of practice in large part to the return of Arkansas coordinators – Kendal Briles on offense, Barry Odom on defense and Scott Fountain on special teams – and strength and conditioning coach Jamil Walker return. At least three of those men were approached for other jobs after the 2021 season, but all received raises and were selected to remain in Fayetteville.

Pittman said the return of coordinators didn’t require the Razorbacks to work on new terminology in off-season practices. This allowed the team to train faster and better in the spring and pre-season.

“I think it’s very, very important that you keep the people who talk to most of the players,” Pittman said, “and if you look at your offensive coordinator, he talks to the whole offense, the defensive coordinator talks to the whole Defense, the special teams The coordinator talks to everyone on the team, the strength coach talks to everyone on the team. If you like them and feel like they’re among the elite in the country, it’s very, very important to keep them.”

Pittman said it’s also important for a team to believe in their quarterback. Arkansas has that kind of confidence in sophomore starter KJ Jefferson.

“He’s our man and they know he’s going to make the difference in some games,” Pittman said. “So there’s a lot of respect. Well, you just don’t go out there… and he’s a starting quarterback and the whole team respects you. You have to earn that, and he certainly has it by the way he works, by the way he acts.

“Whatever we do in the weight room, he’s at the forefront and he’s doing it and I think that’s how you earn respect from your teammates. And then when you’re a good player, it becomes easier at that point.”

Pittman praised his team’s leadership.

“They know what we expect,” Pittman said, “and to be honest, they expect it. That’s probably more powerful than it comes from us. They oversee their own team.”

Pittman reiterated that although his offensive line has been “beaten up” in recent weeks, he expects linemen who missed practice or were restricted will be back in the group by the season opener.

“By Monday I think we’ll be in pretty good shape,” he said. “We have a couple of injuries there but nothing that will keep them out of the game in Cincinnati.”

Arkansas is bringing back four starting-line players — centers Ricky Stromberg, guards Brady Latham and Beaux Limmer, and right tackle Dalton Wagner — from last year’s team that paved the way for a powerful rushing attack. The Razorbacks averaged 227.8 yards per game, which ranked seventh nationally and most among teams in a Power 5 conference.

“I think you have to start the mentality of your football program with the physicality of running football,” Pittman said, “and do it with all 11 guys on the field.”

In the backfield, Pittman likes the versatility of his running back staff, which likely includes sophomores Raheim “Rocket” Sanders and AJ Green, and freshman Rashod Dubinion against Cincinnati. Sophomore Dominique Johnson, who led the team in seven rushing touchdowns last season, returned to practice this week from offseason knee rehab and likely won’t play in the first two games, Pittman previously said.

“They all have a little different game,” Pittman said of the running backs. “With Rocket, it’s more of a speed guy, a power guy. Dubinion can try to miss you in a phone booth and he has that kind of ability for him. And to be honest, AJ is more of a speed guy.”

Pittman sounds excited about Trey Knox’s contribution to the Run Game. Knox has always been a willing blocker, Pittman said, but had to learn how to block after a position switch from wide receiver early last season. That background should help him with the other elements of tight end play.

“I think his biggest development was that now he believes he’s a tight end and he can help our football team but also has a future playing football after college,” Pittman said. “The way I see it, he bought into this position.”

Knox and safety Simeon Blair joined Pittman at the Catfish Hole. Blair described practicing against Knox.

“He’s always been a great blocker, but now he’s a 245-pound blocker,” Blair said. “That makes it even more difficult, especially when he has these long arms. But he just doesn’t block. He’s a great receiver and he still has great hands. It’s hard to stop him because it’s a big physique to compete against.”

Pittman continued his week-long praise for the wide receiver position, which was a concern heading into camp but has emerged as a potential strength for the team. Transfers Jadon Haselwood (Oklahoma) and Matt Landers (Toledo) have added talent to the group, and Pittman said returnees Warren Thompson and Ketron Jackson have improved since last season. Pittman is also excited about the freshman trio of Isaiah Sategna, Sam Mbake and Quincey McAdoo at the position.

“I really like this group,” Pittman said.

Defensively, Pittman is pleased with the development of his linemen. He said the Razorbacks will go into the season with at least four centerbacks and four defensive ends.

He pointed out that defensive tackle cam ball has been improving lately and said defensive end Dorian Gerald is performing well. Gerald missed most of last season with a broken leg and did not train in the spring.

“He squirts,” Pittman said of Gerald. “He does plays out there.”

At Linebacker, Pittman said Bumper Pool’s return was important to the team. Pool led the Razorbacks in 125 tackles last season.

“He really has the team’s ear,” Pittman said. “I think he’s a really good leader in there.”

Pittman wasted no words when describing the play of linebacker Drew Sanders, a transfer from Alabama.

“He’s really good,” Pittman said.

Among defensemen, Pittman highlighted the practice of nickelback Myles Slusher and cornerbacks Hudson Clark, LaDarrius Bishop, Malik Chavis and LSU transfer Dwight McGlothern. He said the Razorbacks are deeper in the cornerback than they have been in years past.

“I like our curves a lot better,” said Pittman. “I think we can still do more.”

Knox said he was impressed with the defense’s ability to “diagnose a play before we even execute it.”

“And it’s kind of annoying,” Knox said, “when this guy says, ‘Watch this route. Oh, he’s coming back here. Oh, he’s waving, he’s coming back.’ And I said, ‘Okay, you know the play. We get it.’

“But these guys are so intellectual and sometimes that helps a lot. These guys run to the ball and that’s a big thing that we focus on is getting to the ball. They’re aggressive, they play right and they play football the way it’s meant to be played.”

The “right way,” Pittman said, is for every defender to run to the ball carrier.

“The expectation is that we have to see all 11 in the movie and we run to the football,” Pittman said. “We’re playing the game right and we’ll see what happens, but I was really impressed with our defense.”

At a recent team meeting, Pittman said the value of various players to the team was discussed. He said he saw most heads nod in agreement at the mention of Kicker Cam Little. Little was a Freshman All-American last season when he scored 20 of 24 field goals.

“We’re better at two minutes (attack) on Cam Little because the guys know that if they get the ball around 35, he’ll make it,” Pittman said. “The team believes in him so much that he really makes a difference – he has a lot of value for our team.”

Pittman indicated he was also pleased with his bettors, returning starter Reid Bauer and Max Fletcher, a freshman from Australia.

“Max Fletcher almost hits that ball back to Australia,” Pittman said. “He fucking stands out.”

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