6 offseason priorities for Arkansas football
What a season it was for Arkansas football.
The Razorbacks took the country by surprise, winning 3 SEC contests and making a bowl game after not winning a conference game in each of the past 2 years.
Unfortunately, the Texas Bowl matchup against TCU was canceled, but that doesn’t take away from the accomplishment. Now Arkansas is gearing up for another offseason with Sam Pittman, and there is hope that next year can bring even more improvement.
As we move on from this season and turn our sights to next, here are a few priorities for the Hogs this offseason:
1. Preparing KJ Jefferson
With Feleipe Franks officially declaring for the NFL Draft, we know there will be someone new under center in 2021.
That person is likely to be KJ Jefferson, who played backup to Franks this year.
He started in place of an injured Franks in the Missouri game and performed well. He went 18-of-33 for 274 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. He is a larger quarterback at 6-foot-3, 236 pounds.
The Razorbacks will need to work with him to ensure he is ready both physically and mentally to step into the starting role. Establishing chemistry with receivers, studying the playbook, working out regularly, etc. should all be priorities for Jefferson this offseason.
2. Integrating more RBs
With Rakeem Boyd on and off the field in 2020, the Razorbacks turned to Trelon Smith as their lead back.
Smith, who rushed for 710 yards, returns next season and at least for now is the favorite to start. Don’t be surprised if he ends up splitting carries with another running back, however.
If I were the Razorbacks, I would look to incoming freshman AJ Green to fill this role. A highly-touted 4-star from one of the more prestigious high schools in Oklahoma (Tulsa Union), Green is in my opinion the running back of the future. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a senior.
A large chunk of Smith’s production came from one 172-yard game, too, so it wouldn’t be shocking if Green eventually overtook him.
3. Strengthening team chemistry
Several Razorback seniors have already announced their returns for next season.
That includes linebacker Grant Morgan, receiver De’Vion Warren and offensive linemen Myron Cunningham and Ty Clary, among others.
Year 1 of the Pittman regime was about restoring the fight to this program. He clearly accomplished that. Now he is faced with the task of winning games.
He won more than enough to please the fanbase in Year 1, but expectations will only get higher. With much of the same team back for next season, the onus is on the Hogs to become an even stronger unit this offseason.
Of course spring practice will be a large part of that, but it’s also about the players who are able to work together on their own doing so. The 1st year was great, so hopefully in the 2nd, the bond grows.
4. Replacing Jonathan Marshall
Marshall is the only other departing starter besides Franks. The defensive tackle was 2nd on the team in tackles for loss with 6.5.
Taurean Carter has the best chance to step in and assume the role. He played limited snaps this season behind Marshall on the depth chart. Incoming freshmen Jalen Williams and Solomon Wright could also compete for the job.
That said, I would give the edge to Carter because of the experience he brings, albeit limited.
The offseason is clearly a big time for recruiting with all the down time coaches have.
Pittman’s 1st recruiting class was already Arkansas’ highest-rated since 2011. The Razorbacks came in at No. 21 in the class of 2021 rankings and are currently No. 16 for 2022.
A top 25 recruiting class is nothing to scoff at, but Pittman’s expectations are obviously higher.
This season, Arkansas missed out on 3 of the top 5 prospects in their state. Pittman said he would have liked to have signed all of the in-state players he offered, and reestablishing themselves in the region should be a top priority this offseason.
Expect plenty of phone calls and interaction between Pittman and recruits in the coming months.
6. Tight end production
It would have been nice to have seen more from Hudson Henry this season.
Henry, the younger brother of NFL tight end and Razorbacks alum Hunter Henry, had high expectations entering the year. He finished with fewer than 100 yards receiving on 16 catches. Instead, it was Blake Kern who led the way, though even he put together just more than 200 yards receiving.
Kern is back for 2021, so it could end up being another even split. Either way, having a more reliable passing target at tight end would go a long way. Hopefully, Henry can break through in his sophomore season.