By: Scottie Bordelon
KJ Jefferson has placed himself among the top talents in the Southeastern Conference regardless of position as he enters his third season as Arkansas’ full-time starter. Jefferson accounted for nearly 3,300 yards of offense and 33 touchdowns in 2022 and was a preseason All-SEC second-team pick in July by media members who cover the league. Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman lauded the quarterback prior to preseason practices for being a team leader, not only the voice of the offense. Jefferson’s composure and confidence in training camp was evident, and it has made an impact in his position group, which is deeper than in years past. Arkansas’ coaches feel comfortable with the ability of transfer quarterback Jacolby Criswell should Jefferson miss time with injury as he did in 2022. The Morrilton native and North Carolina transfer consistently ran with the second-team offense in camp. Freshman Malachi Singleton and redshirt senior Cade Fortin also showcased good qualities in the preseason. But the motor of the offense is Jefferson, who has grown in footwork and mechanics under the guidance of first-year coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos. Jefferson could be under center more in 2023, but still expect plenty of snaps in Shotgun and Pistol formations. Arkansas averaged 38 points and went 7-3 in 10 games in which Jefferson was healthy last season. With him in the lineup, the Razorbacks will be competitive week in and week out.
Running Back
Raheim “Rocket” Sanders is the clear-cut No. 1 option in a position group that may be the deepest on the Arkansas roster. The junior in 2022 averaged 111 rushing yards per game, the highest mark by a Razorbacks tailback since Alex Collins in 2015. The preseason All-SEC first-team selection now stands at 6-2 and 242 pounds after an offseason of work with new strength coach Ben Sowders, and coaches say he is faster than last season. Expectations are sky-high for Sanders, who could after this fall declare for the 2024 NFL Draft. AJ Green, a Tulsa native, and Rashod Dubinion bring speed and shiftiness to the group. The duo combined for 211 rushing yards in the Liberty Bowl against Kansas after Sanders exited with an injury. Coaches say Green is a complete college tailback entering 2023, and Dubinion has a knack for making something out of nothing on a carry and making defenders miss. Dominique Johnson is back in the fold as well after missing last season due to a second ACL injury to his right knee. Position coach Jimmy Smith relishes the challenge of dividing carries amongst a gifted bunch. Freshman Isaiah Augustave, a former 4-star prospect from Naples, Fla., is also looking to crack the rotation.
Wide Receiver
A pair of NCAA transfer portal additions in Matt Landers and Jadon Haselwood led the Razorbacks’ receiving corps in 2022. With the duo out of the picture now, two more transfers — Andrew Armstrong and Isaac TeSlaa — are expected to step in and fill those roles. Armstrong and TeSlaa were two of the more talked-about players on the roster during the preseason on account of their play-making ability, sure hands, speed and work ethic, quieting some concerns about their respective leaps up in level of competition. Armstrong previously played at Texas A&M-Commerce, and TeSlaa comes from Hillsdale (Mich.) College. Bowling Green transfer Tyrone Broden pushed in camp to make an impact after missing much of the spring with an injury. Former Fayetteville High School star Isaiah Sategna figures to take on a larger role in the passing game, too, after redshirting. Jaedon Wilson and Bryce Stephens are back and provide depth and potential deep threats. Wilson broke his leg in a spring-time car accident but is back in the mix. Sam Mbake, an expected contributor who received praise early in camp for his play, will miss the season with an injury suffered Aug. 12. Freshman Davion Dozier could see playing time right away at 6-4 and 205 pounds.
Tight End
The group may be as brand-new as any other position on the team. Morgan Turner is in his first year as position coach after arriving from Stanford last December. Turner has a track record of developing tight ends and sending players to the NFL, and there are a host of players in his unit hoping to soon be added to that list. Following spring practices, Arkansas added transfers Var’keyes Gumms (North Texas) and Francis Sherman (Louisville) to bolster playmaking and in-line blocking. Gumms finished with 458 receiving yards and five touchdowns with the Mean Green in 2022 and believes he can build on those numbers in Enos’ offense, which utilizes tight ends. Sherman does not have similar receiving numbers, but will add value in the run game as a hard-nosed player, and he hopes to showcase more athleticism than in the past. Luke Hasz and Shamar Easter are newcomers as well. Hasz took part in spring drills and has been touted as if he will be a contributor throughout the season as a pass catcher and run blocker. Easter arrived on campus in the summer and has made leaps, according to Turner. Returner Tyrus Washington possesses a maturity that bodes well, and he was shouted out by Pittman for making plays in the preseason. His touchdown catch in the Liberty Bowl served as a confidence boost, but he has his sights set on many more big plays in the future. Nathan Bax, a veteran in the room, should expect to see the field after getting banged up in the first fall scrimmage.
Offensive Line
Brady Latham and Beaux Limmer are the unquestioned leaders up front. The duo has 65 career starts with the Razorbacks. Limmer, who squatted 700 pounds this summer, is all-in on his move to center, where Pittman believes his future may lie at the professional level. Latham remains stationed at left guard. There is plenty of new around them. Pittman said a top concern entering camp was identifying tackles who could contribute to SEC wins. Patrick Kutas held firm at right tackle in the preseason, and Devon Manuel drew rave reviews at left tackle before and after missing time with an undisclosed injury. Andrew Chamblee, a Maumelle native, stepped in in Manuel’s absence and could push for starter’s time. Florida transfer Joshua Braun brings some know-how to the front line at right guard. He played more than 800 snaps with the Gators before transferring. E’Marion Harris and Ty’Kieast Crawford worked at guard and tackle on the right side in camp, and Amaury Wiggins backed up Limmer. Josh Street, who played at Bentonville High School, earned a scholarship within the first two weeks of the preseason.
Defensive Line
No position group drew more positive reviews in the preseason than Deke Adams’. The lone holdover from Arkansas’ defensive staff in 2022, Adams revamped his room, adding quality depth at each spot. Defensive ends Landon Jackson and Trajan Jeffcoat stood out in camp. Jackson bulked his 6-7 frame to more than 280 pounds in the offseason and expectations are high. Jeffcoat, a Missouri transfer, flashed throughout the preseason and even received praise from offensive line coach Cody Kennedy. Zach Williams and Jashaud Stewart also return at end. Stewart missed some time in camp with a heel injury. Pittsburgh transfer John Morgan is expected to make an impact on the edge as well. Keivie Rose (Louisiana Tech) and Anthony “Tank” Booker (Maryland) offer size, strength and depth on the interior alongside returnees Taurean Carter, Eric Gregory and Cam Ball. Carter appears to be back to full strength after missing 2022 with an ACL injury. Nico Davillier and Ian Geffrard, who stands 6-5 and 394 pounds, could play their way into the rotation at end and tackle, respectively. Carter said the line has a quality mix of power and finesse and, overall, the group is deeper than at any other point in his career.
Arkansas lost an All-American at the second level in Alabama transfer Drew Sanders and its all-time tackles leader in Bumper Pool, but the Razorbacks recruited at the position to be in good shape in 2023. Antonio Grier (South Florida) went through spring drills and got up to speed. He did miss time in the preseason with an injury. Jaheim Thomas of Cincinnati was a summer-time portal addition, and he battled injury as well before gaining trust in the opening weeks of camp. Thomas finished with seven tackles against Arkansas during the 2022 season opener in Fayetteville. Thomas was third last season in tackles (70) on a Bearcats defense that finished 20th nationally in scoring defense. Chris “Pooh” Paul heads the room after a breakout season in which he had 62 tackles, 8 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Paul started the team’s final two games after Pool was shut down due to injuries to his hips and back and recorded 21 tackles, including a career-best 12 in the Liberty Bowl. Pittman said Paul suffered a slight MCL injury early in the preseason, but will be fully available. Also returning is Jordan Crook and Mani Powell. Crook had 10 tackles in the spring scrimmage and is powerful at 6-2 and 220 pounds. Freshmen Brad Spence, Carson Dean and Alex Sanford have the ability to play early. Linebacker depth was a concern for Pittman entering the preseason, but playmaking from the young core lifted his confidence in the group, which looks the part from top to bottom.
Similarly to the defensive line, the back end of the Razorbacks’ defense will have a new look this season. Cornerback Dwight “Nudie” McGlothern and safety Hudson Clark return. McGlothern was second in the SEC last fall with four interceptions, and Clark broke up a team-best 11 passes. They slot in with fresh talent such as Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson, a Baylor transfer who can play Nickel or corner, and cornerback Jaheim Singletary, a transfer from Georgia. Al Walcott, another transfer from Baylor, worked primarily at safety in the preseason and is expected to make an immediate impact. Other cornerbacks include Jaylon Braxton, the highest-rated player in the 2023 class by 247Sports, TCU transfer Kee’yon Stewart and LaDarrius Bishop. No update has been provided on the status of cornerback Quincey McAdoo, a breakout star in the secondary in 2022 who injured his neck in a summer car wreck. Rison native Malik Chavis and Jayden Johnson are pushing for time at safety as well. Jaylen Lewis, a redshirt freshman, flashed in the preseason at Nickel with punishing hits and pass breakups. The secondary is being led by first-year coaches Marcus Woodson, who came from Florida State and is co-defensive coordinator, and Deron Wilson, who worked with Florida’s corners last season.
Special Teams
There have not been many eyes on Arkansas’ special teams units to this point. Pittman said after the team’s first scrimmage on Aug. 12 that Cam Little made field goals of 54 and 58 yards, and Blake Ford hit kicks of 49 and 50 yards. Little has made 33 of 40 (82.5%) attempts in two seasons with the Razorbacks and has the trust of Pittman and special teams coordinator Scott Fountain. Little was not placed on the preseason Lou Groza Award watch list. He said his goal is to kick in the 90% range this season. Pittman added that Little has earned kickoff duties as well. Max Fletcher, who averaged 37.4 yards per punt last season and split time with Reid Bauer, was solid in camp and “punted the heck out of the ball” in the first scrimmage, according to Pittman. Devin Bale and Owen Lawson are also in the punting competition. Lawson was an All-American at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, and Bale transferred from Northern Colorado. He had a long of 71 yards last season. In the return game, Fountain said there could be more options this year than in the past. AJ Green and Isaiah Sategna might be at the top on kickoff return, and Bryce Stephens and Jaylen Braxton could work on punt return. Fountain didn’t rule out Sategna at punt return, too.

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