Sam Pittman was in a good mood following Thursday's football practice as Arkansas practiced in shoulder pads and helmets for the second straight day.
Travis Swanson, 64, and Mitch Smothers have both been among the five players to get reps at center this fall.
Pittman, who coaches the offensive line, was asked if he has ever coached a player 6-foot-10. That is the listed height for true freshman Dan Skipper who was personally recruited by Pittman first at Tennessee and then at Arkansas.
“I was an assistant basketball coach for a year,” Pittman said. “The tallest player we had was like 6-4.”
Skipper chose Arkansas over Tennessee, Ole Miss, Ohio State and others. When questioned if he had reservations about recruiting an offensive tackle that tall Pittman quickly had a response. Pittman was asked if someone that tall presented challenges.
“If there was a challenge that we didn't like about him we wouldn't have recruited him,” Pittman said and then responded back to the recruiting writers with a smile. “You guys liked him.”
Pittman said Skipper is playing left tackle while Denver Kirkland, another freshman, is playing right tackle. The third true freshman offensive lineman is Reeve Koehler who has played both center and guard. Pittman was asked if Kirkland had found a home at right tackle.
“We have had him there for four practices and as of now that is where we plan to play him,” Pittman said.
Pittman said right now he's trying to determine who will be behind Travis Swanson at center and has experimented there with some players.
“We've repped to this point five,” Pittman said. “We've repped Swanson, (Luke) Charpentier, (Mitch) Smothers, (Cordale) Boyd and Koehler. So, we've repped a bunch of them. Once you find out who will be your back-up center then you can kind of figure out what you're going to do if somebody gets hurt at the guard spot.”
Sam Pittman is pleased with the play of all three freshmen offensive linemen.
Much like the other coaches, Pittman is pleased with how the players have carried over what they learned in the spring to this week of practices.
“I think the retention from spring ball has been pretty good,” Pittman said. “I really do. We have to get better fundamentally and physically, but as far as assignment ball I have been pretty pleased with the pass protection. We have all our packages in.”
Pittman said that Swanson and sophomore quarterback Brandon Allen are stepping up to help get the offense get to where it needs to be.
“I tell you what we are getting,” Pittman said. “We are getting great leadership out of the quarterback position (Brandon Allen). We're getting good leadership out of our center too. So right there are the two positions that only one guy plays it. There's only one quarterback and one center on the whole team. Everybody else has two guards, two tackles, two corners. Those two critical spots we have great leadership.”
Arkansas Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney also feels the practices have been pretty good though it's too early to get a complete read on the squad.
“We had some good things and some bad just like any other time,” Chaney said of the fourth day of practice. “Brandon is doing a nice job out there at the quarterback position. He's improving and I'm excited about watching him.”
One common theme with this staff has been an effort to get more physical. Chaney reitarated that on Thursday.
“I thought yesterday we were average,” Chaney said. “Today was a little bit better.”
The Razorbacks will have full pads for the first time on Friday and Chaney said they won't wait until Saturday's scrimmage to do some hitting.
“I think we will get it on tomorrow,” Chaney said. “I'm looking forward to it. I think with pads it's a mentality. I want to see a team change when they put full pads on. We will have some fun with [putting the pads on for the first time with] that.”
While Allen has drawn praise each day for his play at quarterback as well as his leadership skills, his backup A.J. Derby has shown some good things as well according to Chaney.
“He's doing a real nice job,” Chaney said. “I'm really proud of him. He hasn't made a lot of mental mistakes. I'm really proud of him. He seems to be throwing the ball a little bit better.”
Chaney also praised sophomore right tackle Grady Ollison who is up to 305 pounds now. Ollison said on Thursday he even added another pound today.
“He's doing good,” Chaney said. “He's as fast as you want any offensive lineman to be. It's just learning the details of the assignment with Grady. He gets a little sloppy when he gets tired, but he's got to get that mental toughness to get through it. The physical ability flashes all the time.”
Chaney also addressed what he meant by bad things at practice.
“The negative-yardage plays, sacks, a turnover,” Chaney said. “A turnover more than anything else. We had some issues yesterday. We're emphasizing it (not turning ball over). Every staff in America emphasizes it, but we've got to get it through to them.”