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Spring practices pushing limits at Arkansas

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FAYETTEVILLE — With a season established that their way is a winning way with three SEC victories over zero SEC successes the previous two years under their predecessors, second-year Arkansas Coach and former longtime offensive line coach Sam Pittman and second-year Arkansas offensive line coach and longtime Pittman protege Brad Davis accelerate into spring football tough love pushing their offensive line.

The intensity permeates, fifth-year senior right offensive tackle Dalton Wagner said after Tuesday’s fourth practice of the 15 NCAA practices allowed for spring drills.

“Coach Davis has been harping, absolutely harping it about our physicality, and making sure we’re the baddest offensive line in the SEC,” Wagner said. “That’s his goal and that’s what we need to practice like and that’s what we’ve been practicing like. He pushes us to our absolute limit every day.”

Tuesday’s ear witnesses could vouch for that.

“I’m sure those of you out there heard him yelling and getting after us,” Wagner said. “It’s what we need, a guy that’s like that to light a fire under us and get us going. Coach Pittman puts a lot of strain on us to make sure that we really do our job. To protect the quarterback. We’ve been making sure that we we’ve been taking sacks really to heart this spring. Coach Davis doesn’t tolerate a single one of them. We make sure we handle it and address it in the room.”

Wagner said the line knows Davis isn’t harping at them just to harp.

“He said, ‘It’s never personal,” Wagner said. “It’s ‘I’m here to push you to be the best you can be. You’re playing college football in the SEC West. It’s never going to be an easy day.”

Before spring drills began, Pittman challenged the offense’s physicality to show him and play-calling offensive coordinator Kendal Briles that they can call a run instead of a pass on third and three and feel confident they’ll get the first down.

How did the O-line take the challenge?

“Personal,” Wagner said. “Very personal. He’s directly called us out. It’s what he wants to do. And Coach Davis takes it to heart. We take it to heart. It’s our goal to be a dominant, physical run offensive line. And make sure that is our goal and there’s no doubt when we get into situations like that that we can convert. Ricky (Stromberg the starting center) and Ty (Clary, returning starting guards) and Myron (Cunningham, the returning starting left tackle) we’ve all really focused on, just harping in and trying to ingrain it into our brains. It’s a direct challenge to us. We won’t shy away from it.”

Wagner said he and the team are “absolutely” excited that Saturday’s 10:30 a.m. scrimmage has been made open to the public.

“I didn’t even know we were doing it until yesterday (Monday) when Coach Pitt told us,” Wagner said. “I was as excited as could be. It’s what the fans, it’s what everybody needs right now I feel like. Everybody needs a little football in their life. I hope as many people as they can fit will come.”

Safety Joe Foucha, the other Razorback media available after Tuesday’s practice, said “To us, the defense, we treat every day like it is a scrimmage. But Saturday we are going to be full force and it is going to be like a regular day for us. We are just going to be more physical.”

Foucha said improvement in a formerly ailing shoulder allows him to be more physical this spring than he could as a starter last fall.

“Pretty much for me it was adding my muscle definition,” Foucha said of his offseason goal. “ I had that shoulder surgery so I wasn’t really lifting throughout the whole season heavy. So that was the main focus for me getting back physical and getting back to my normal self.”

Given the Hogs couldn’t have spring practice last year because the advent of the covid pandemic closed all spring sports activity during 2020’s mid March, Foucha said just having spring practice is huge for these Hogs starting Year Two under Pittman and defensive coordinator Barry Odom. We didn’t have spring practice and that kind of hurt us because we were in a transition with coaches,” Foucha said. “We didn’t get to know our coaches as much and had to go home. I feel like this spring is going to help us a whole bunch because we are breaking bad habits. We are picking up tendencies of defense, we are learning each other’s jobs.”

Foucha was asked about defensive backs newcomers Jayden Johnson and Jermaine Hamilton-Jordan.

“Those young guys are picking up pretty fast,” Foucha said. “Jayden Johnson. He’s a great player. He has great size (6-2, 206). He’s got two picks already so he’s picking things up pretty fast. And Jermaine Hamilton - he’s coming along every day. He’s showing coaches why he deserves to be here. I like those two young guys.”

The Razorbacks next practice Thursday leading into Saturday’s scrimmage.

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