Arkansas football: 4 most critical position battles for 2020
Arkansas football turned another page in 2019, replacing its head coach after less than 2 seasons on the job, and begins a new direction under first-time head coach Sam Pittman.
That generally means change and the Razorbacks certainly need that. Although they return nearly everyone on offense (and added former Florida starting QB Feleipe Franks), and 6 on defense, it’s safe to say that all positions will be reevaluated with the new coaching staff.
Here’s a look at 4 key position battles heading into the 2020 season.
KJ Jefferson vs. Jack Lindsey vs. John Stephen Jones
What to expect: With Florida graduate transfer Feleipe Franks coming to Arkansas, it is assumed that he will win the starting job. However, the Razorbacks have some young and talented signal-callers who will get their opportunity. The backup role is critical given Franks’ up-and-down career as a Gator.
With what little opportunity he had, Jefferson displayed a skill set that could land him a starting role. The redshirt freshman is still learning but displayed all the tools necessary to earn snaps, even if he can’t beat out Franks.
But he’ll have strong competition from Jack Lindsey, who will be entering his senior season. Another prospect with little playing experience, Lindsey played in 11 games this past season but only threw 30 passes, completing 13 for 126 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Jones has to be considered the dark horse. The freshman played in 3 games this season, completing 13-of-26 passes for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns (1 interception). Like Jefferson, he had his moments but still needs some polishing.
Projected winner: Jefferson
Shane Clenin vs. Luke Jones
What to expect: Unless the new regime does some shuffling along the offensive line, and that’s certainly a possibility, these are among the top candidates who are likely to battle for that spot. Neither has much experience as a starter.
Clenin played in 11 games in 2019, starting just 1. A converted left tackle, the sophomore played in 7 games as a freshman, starting the season at left tackle.
A redshirt freshman transfer from Notre Dame, Jones has a tremendous upside but still hasn’t played in a college game. At 6-5, 300 pounds, Jones is looking to break out in 2020 and become a factor on the offensive line, whether it’s at a guard spot or somewhere else in the trenches.
Projected winner: Clenin
Jonathan Marshall vs. Isaiah Nichols
What to expect: Both DE spots are open, so it’s possible both earn starting jobs in 2020.
Marshall has the edge in experience, having played in 36 games in 3 seasons at Arkansas. He recorded 17 tackles in 2019, which will be tied with Nichols for the 2nd-most of any returning defensive linemen on the team in 2020. His 4.5 tackles for loss will be the most among returning D-linemen next season.
Nichols assisted on 10 tackles this past season. The redshirt freshman had a tackle for loss as well as 0.5 sacks.
Projected winner: Marshall
Reid Bauer vs. Jared Sackett
What to expect: The Razorbacks will look to improve upon the kicking game. Arkansas ranked 9th in the SEC in field goal percentage (73.7) and 11th in kickoffs with just 28 touchbacks and a 60-yard average per boot.
But neither Bauer nor Sackett has attempted a field goal at Arkansas. Sackett did kick for UTSA for 2 seasons before transferring. In both years he was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist. As a freshman, he set the UTSA single-season record with 19 field goals (22 attempts). In 2018 he booted 33 field goals (41 attempts), including a career-high 51-yarder.
Bauer, though listed as a kicker, has had much more experience as a punter. He punted 56 times in 12 games for Arkansas as a freshman, averaging 38.8 yards per kick before losing his starting role to junior Sam Loy. He could likely back up both kicker and punter in 2020.
Projected winner: Sackett