Year two in Fayetteville under Sam Pittman is expected to be another year where the Hogs look to move their way up in the tough SEC.
The Razorbacks need a few players to step up, some of the talented true freshman to come in and contribute and for progress to continually be made.
There is already quite a bit of talent on The Hill as it showed last season when the Hogs won three conference games. The most since the 2016 season.
Your expected stars like Treylon Burks, Jalen Catalon, Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool are all back. Then, your solid contributors like leading rusher Trelon Smith, defensive line leaders Isaiah Nichols and Dorian Gerald both return and your whole offensive line is back for this season.
The question mark at quarterback shouldn’t be too big of an issue as KJ Jefferson started at Missouri last season and showed Razorback Nation he can lead this team. The talent has always been there for Jefferson who only needed the chance to showcase his ability. He will be your QB1.
Running back will be the intriguing position group to watch. The coaching staff could go “running back by committee” this fall with so much talent and diversity. Smith, Josh Oglesby and TJ Hammonds are your scatbacks that can get yards in bunches. Dominique Johnson could be your bruiser at 6’2 240. Incoming freshmen Rocket Sanders and AJ Green are your home run hitters with elite speed.
The duo of Green and Sanders are your backs of the future. However, if they are given the chance they couldn’t separate themselves from the pack in 2021. Green and Sanders are just that good.
We know that offensive coordinator Kendal Briles likes to spread and stretch the field. He also likes to score quickly which we saw late in the season as the offense developed. This season, Briles will have that. Jefferson’s elite arm strength and velocity of his throws separates him from the other quarterbacks on the roster.
Burks will stretch the field as he is a threat to score from any point on the gridiron. Who else will step up? Let’s try Trey Knox this season. His ability as a bigger receiver helps him with 50/50 balls and be more physical than his defenders. Watch out for De’Vion Warren to come back from injury and pick up where he left off.
Ketron Jackson and Jaedon Wilson are two true freshman receivers that I could see pushing for reps during camp. Jackson, like Knox, will be a guy tough to defend with his physical tools. Wilson is 6’3 180 but has solid speed. He wasn’t highly rated coming out of high school but reminds me of a young Greg Childs.
Defensive line was a huge question mark back in the early parts of spring but Pittman knew that and added key transfers to the defensive line.
Missouri transfers Tre Williams and Markell Utsey plus Illinois State transfer John Ridgeway add immediate depth to a line in need of playmakers.
Ridgeway (6’5 296) had a plethora of offers when he entered the portal and it’s totally understandable. His size and ability to get in the backfield to make plays impressed a lot of schools around the country. Arkansas was one of the first to contact Ridgeway when he entered the portal. The loyalty displayed by him early on will make him easy to root for as a Hog.
JUCO transfer Jalen Williams will also be one to watch. It usually takes them a little time to adapt to the SEC but expect Williams to contribute towards the middle of the season and help anchor the middle of the line with Ridgeway.
The secondary will be one of the best in recent memory for the Razorbacks. Think back to the late 90’s and early 2000’s with Kenoy Kennedy and Ken Hamlin or Chris Houston. The secondary is that good.
Obviously your do-it-all safety Catalon will perform as expected and be an All-American candidate. The guys at cornerback could be shut down a few passing games this fall. Montaric Brown, LaDarrius Bishop and Greg Brooks could all be guys that are difference makers for the back of the defense.
The defense backfield really took a step forward last season as they ranked sixth in the conference in passing yards allowed. Arkansas intercepted 12 passes last season, too. That’s a number that could possibly be higher in 2021. A thing you must keep in mind is that Arkansas did this against a 10-game SEC only schedule which is even more impressive.
KEEP AN EYE ON
RB Dominique Johnson- He is definitely a bruiser as mentioned before. When Arkansas needs two to three yards on fourth and short will he be able to pick those up? It’s been a while since Arkansas had this kind of back so it will be worth watching Johnson develop.
DB Trent Gordon- The first transfer of the offseason was Gordon who comes from Penn State. He was rated a high three-star back out of high school and played in ten games as a Nittany Lion. If we know one thing it’s that defensive coordinator Barry Odom knows how to coach up the back of the defense. He could contribute this season if called upon. Gordon recorded 20 total tackles with 13 of them being solo so that shows he has a knack for tackling in the open field.
LB Christopher Paul- The Razorbacks have seen a shortage at linebacker for the longest time. Paul was one of the first to commit in the class of 2021 and the staff seems to really believe in him. Arkansas needs a third linebacker to emerge to really provide depth and help stop opponents run games. Arkansas ranked in the bottom half of the conference in run defense in 2020. So, any kind of help will benefit Arkansas next season.