There seemed to be a feeling of new beginnings in Fayetteville on Saturday with two new coordinators and a handful of new assistants. Quarterback KJ Jefferson returns with a mindset to rebound from what could be considered a disappointing season in 2023.
Arkansas returns a lot of key leadership in linebacker Chris Paul, Rahiem Sanders, LaDarrius Bishop, Landon Jackson and many more. That will be key through the offseason with a team full of players wanting to make a statement in the toughest conference in football.
What else was at stake on Saturday? Well, there were plenty of big time recruits visiting Fayetteville and the staff rolled out the red carpet that featured several familiar names including Darren McFadden, Colton Jackson and more.
One of the first things that was very noticeable was the quick transition the offense has made under Dan Enos. There seemed to be comfort amongst the quarterbacks inside the more pro-style approach, a style that Arkansas fans grew familiar with during Enos’ first stint at Arkansas.
Some things did stay the same especially with Jefferson’s capability to extend plays and run on display. It seems that Enos won’t shy away from using that in his offense but one noticeable difference was moving under center which Jefferson has never done before. From an observative standpoint it looks like it was easy and something that didn’t take much work to add.
One play that comes to mind from the scrimmage was the seam route to Isaiah Sategna for a 65-yard touchdown. Jefferson has one of the more beautiful deep balls in the country but what he hasn’t been able to do was throw over middle or seems. Instead, former offensive coordinator, Kendal Briles liked to attack more of the boundary of the field and there’s nothing wrong with it. However, the question of Jefferson being able to throw more that bubble screens and deep boundary were answered with that strike.
Staying with the quarterback room, Jacolby Criswell can be an impactful backup while also setting up Arkansas for the future after Jefferson. The Morrilton, (Ark.) native was a victim of elite quarterback recruting at North Carolina. The Tar Heels brought in Sam Howell and Drake Maye during Criswell’s time in Chapel Hill. Fans could tell he was coached well and isn’t nearly as raw as what the Razorback quarterback room has been in the past.
Criswell operated all over the field throwing a beautiful deep pass on a play that was ruled dead due to a linebacker touching him in the backfield. The pass was caught by redshirt freshman, Sam Mbake, 65 yards for a touchdown. Must we dare say outside of Jefferson no other quarterback was doing that on the field last season.
Cade Fortin showed how well he could do making an extremely tough throw to the corner to Sategna where only he could catch it during redzone work. Fortin will continue to be a solid third or fourth option at the position for the remainder of his career.
Finally, Malachi Singleton showed out during the scrimmage only three months into his college football career. He came in from a solid Georgia high school football division and seemed to transition just fine since arriving to Fayetteville. Although there were no official statistics recorded, Singleton displayed a very strong arm and confidence throwing into tight windows to complete passes.
His ability to extend plays and speed when running in a straight line shows how good of an option he could be under Enos in the future.
Arkansas heads into the offseason with plenty to hang their hat on but there will be plenty of wrinkles and such added to the arsenal. Their first game will be Labor Day weekend when they head down the interstate to Little Rock and host Western Carolina.