Arkansas football: 5 biggest areas of concern ... and possible solutions
The euphoria of a 9-win season still lingers throughout Fayetteville. Not since the 11-2 season of 2011 has Arkansas been relevant in the sport, and Hog Nation can’t wait to see if head coach Sam Pittman can reach double-digit victories in 2022.
That would be a tall task, and one that Pittman surely welcomes. But just how realistic is it to expect the Razorbacks to reach that plateau? Well, let’s look at 5 of the biggest areas of concern for Pittman and the Hogs, and perhaps a few possible solutions as well.
1. Jalen Catalon’s shoulder
Poised to build on a sensational freshman season, Catalon never gained any traction in 2021 after suffering a nagging shoulder injury last fall camp and then breaking his wrist early in the season. The safety’s promising season never materialized, as he played in just 6 games.
After finishing 3rd on the team in tackles (99) as a freshman, including a team-high 51 solos, Catalon was still able to finish 8th on the team in 2021 with 46 tackles. With that frustrating season apparently behind him, it’s time for Catalon to get back on track to All-Star status.
He’ll have to not only step up his game and return to form, but also become a leader in the secondary with the departures of DBs Montaric Brown, Joe Foucha and Greg Brooks Jr. Catalon’s health will be a huge concern heading into spring and fall camps.
Pittman dipped into the transfer portal and plucked a DB to help Catalon shore up the secondary. While Foucha and Brooks headed to LSU, Arkansas picked up former LSU DB Dwight McGlothern.
2. Receiving corps
There’s just no way to replace a talent like Treylon Burks. Replacing your 2 top receivers, well — good luck with that.
Once again, Pittman went to the well, a.k.a. the transfer portal, and pulled Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood to resurrect his career and the Hogs’ passing game. Regarded by many as the top receiver in the country coming out of high school, Haselwood led the Sooners last season with 39 receptions (399 yards) and 6 TDs.
His presence should give the Razorbacks a big boost and a reliable target for QB KJ Jefferson.
After that, it’s Warren Thompson who steps into a senior leadership role after hauling in 19 passes for 304 yards and 2 TDs a year ago. It’s freshmen and sophomores after that, so Thompson’s role will not be limited to simply catching passes.
Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry leave behind gigantic shoes to fill at linebacker for Arkansas. That’s a combined 202 tackles from last season that have to be accounted for, including Henry’s team-leading 12 tackles for loss.
It looks like some youngsters are going to have to grow up in a hurry. But that process could be helped along by the guidance of senior veteran LB Bumper Pool. He’ll have to be a coach on the field with the young talent. But if anyone can offer guidance on how to play the game the right way, it’s Pool.
4. Who plays OT?
The offensive line appears to be a strength again this season, with senior center Ricky Stromberg opting to return along with RT Dalton Wagner. Beaux Limmer and Brady Latham are solid at the guard spots. But who will play LT for the departing Myron Cunningham?
That’s the 1 question mark that, if answered, could make Arkansas’ offensive line among the best in the conference again.
Could it be redshirt sophomore Jalen St. John, or junior Marcus Henderson? They appear to be the frontrunners heading into spring camp.
Defensive coordinator Barry Odom has his work cut out for him with the departures of both Tre Williams and John Ridgeway.
So where do you go for answers? How do you find an edge rusher who can replace Williams’ team-leading 6 sacks? Well, the transfer portal, of course.
LSU transfer Landon Jackson didn’t play his senior year of high school because of an injury, and the 6-7, 273-pound 4-star recruit from Texas doesn’t have the gaudy stats just yet. But all indications are that he can be a good one, and that’s going to be a key for Arkansas’ 3-man front.