FAYETTEVILLE — What Sam Pittman wants by the start of Arkansas’ August preseason football practices is easier achieved than it used to be.
But it’s still isn’t easy. Particularly since what he wants achieved seems pulling from opposite directions.
Second-year head coach Pittman sees his Razorbacks becoming a much bigger but not fatter football team. And he wants that done by August so that the preseason practices can be devoted to football and maintaining the conditioning to play it rather than spending the majority of the time getting in shape to play the game.
That’s why 2-a-days were required before scholarships became year-round with summer school keeping playing players on campus for the “voluntary” conditioning drills and weightroom workouts.
However it’s still a big task, particularly as former offensive line coach Pittman seeks reshaping Arkansas’ offensive line, that immediate 2019-2019 predecessor Chad Morris wanted slimmer, back to the behemoths that Pittman coached from 2013-2015 under former Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema.
The importance was a Pittman major point of emphasis before the Razorbacks took their May break between the close of the spring semester and summer school’s first semester.
“In the exit meetings with these kids the No. 1 concern I have is our conditioning,” Pittman said in May. “We have to get bigger and we have to get in ultimate shape. And that’s hard to do when you are trying to get your team, big, big, big and carry this extra weight yet do it at the same pace you did at a lighter weight. It’s hard.”
Even with all the summer testing and conditioning, true football conditioning still not really gauged until the pads are donned and plays run in succession.
“Most of the conversation has been ‘You have to get in better shape.’” Pittman said post spring drills in May. “I’m not saying they are in bad shape. But if I have to play 10 plays in a row on a drive I have to be able to do that at a high volume and high rate and I don’t think we’re quite there yet. I expect to be there right after the summer.”
Wright’s Barbeque in Northwest Arkansas obviously counts on a bigger, better offensive line given its endorsement deal with the Razorbacks’ top offensive linemen now NCAA allowed under the NIL (Names, Image and Likeness) agreement for all collegiate sports.
Much has been said about Pittman’s desire for an offensive line big and strong enough to face an everybody knows they are going to run on third or fourth and one and pound it for the first down.
But he’s equally determined to have a bigger, tougher defensive line with the with the depth allowing defensive coordinator and former Missouri head coach Barry Odom to intersperse more 4-man fronts vs. so often just rushing three linemen and dropping back eight like Arkansas did last season.
“I think it (using more 4-man fronts) plays into what I like so much about Coach Odom besides just personally,” Pittman said of the versatility seen from Odom’s Mizzou defenses. “You never really knew what you could get. But last year I don’t know if we could get into a 4-man line and take our nickels or boundary safety off the field to get to that. We have to get to the point where our four D-linemen are as good as our nickel and our safety. If we do that, then we can be very, very multiple and that’s what we want do.”
Dropping eight back proved hugely effective stopping Mississippi State’s the very week after Bulldogs Coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid spectacularly debuted strafing defending 2019 national champion LSU but needed pass-rushing help by season’s end.
“I think we got better but we’re not where we want to be,” Pittman said post spring drills of rushing the passer. “We feel like we’re headed in the right direction but not there yet where we can line up four and say we’re going to sack the quarterback on a consistent basis which a lot of teams can do.”