Razorback camp notebook: Backups still battling, WR impresses

Published Friday, August 11, 2023
FAYETTEVILLE — Reserve quarterbacks Jacolby Criswell and Cade Fortin had big performances during the media viewing portion of Thursday’s sixth practice of training camp, the first day in full pads for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Fortin in particular stood out during a half-line pass coverage period while taking reps behind third-year starter KJ Jefferson and Criswell.
The fifth-year senior delivered a deep-ball strike to speedster Isaiah Sategna down a seam for a touchdown against coverage from freshman safety RJ Johnson.
On the second snap of his next two-play set, Fortin went deep again, this time connecting with sophomore Sam Mbake at the goal line against close coverage from transfer Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson.
Criswell found Bryce Stephens for a good gain down the left edge on the first play of fastball starts and later completed a throw to Isaac TeSlaa in the same sequence.
Criswell’s play earned praise from Coach Sam Pittman, who said the backup quarterback role is an ongoing competition.
“It’s always a battle,” Pittman said. “But Jacolby Criswell is one heck of a quarterback and so is Fortin. Criswell has an elite, special arm and he can fly. They’ve both done a nice job.”
Said TeSlaa, “Jacolby’s … a real athlete and a quarterback, so you know he’s going to be able to move in the pocket but also make throws outside of the pocket. And he honestly throws one of the best balls I’ve ever seen from any quarterback.
“That thing, I mean he’s got some zip on it, and he can put touch on it. I feel like he’s just an all-around very solid quarterback, and he’s able to make those throws wherever. Inside of the pocket, outside of the pocket. He’s able to zip that thing anywhere.”
Safety Al Walcott attested to seeing the same things from the 6-1, 230-pounder from Morrilton.
“He can definitely put it in tight spots,” Walcott said. “I experienced it. Very good, very talented, getting better each and every day from summer to now.”
Dropped INTs
One of the trends from the media viewing portion of Thursday’s work was potential interceptions that went unclaimed by defensive backs.
Defenders got hands on three passes during the 15-play fastball start period and one more during half-line passing drills available for media viewing.
Dwight McGlothern jumped a screen pass from Jacolby Criswell intended for Tyrone Broden and the result would have been a return for a score. But McGlothern, who was second in the SEC with four interceptions last year, could not hold on.
Cade Fortin’s slant intended for Marlon Crockett was tipped and went off the arms of a defensive back, though that play would’ve been more difficult due to a quick change-of-direction on the flight of the ball.
Later, freshman safety TJ Metcalf did not bring in a potential interception thrown by Malachi Singleton on the 14th snap of fastballs.
During half-line passing drills, freshman cornerback Jaylon Braxton broke in front of Kaylon Morris on an edge pass, but he could not collect the pass from KJ Jefferson.
Mbake baking
Coach Sam Pittman was asked if sophomore wideout Sam Mbake would help the rotation this fall and he left no equivocation with his answer.
“Heck yeah he’s going to be able to help us,” Pittman said. “I mean, Mbake is a wonderful person and he plays 90 mph all the time, and it’s important to him.
“He has improved in every aspect of his game: Speed, strength, awareness of what he’s doing. Mbake will be on the field as much as anybody this year. I really like the kid. He’s an awful hard worker.”
Receivers coach Kenny Guiton also touted Mbake this week.
“Everybody knows what Sam is going to give you,” Guiton said. “He’s going to give you 100 miles per hour, 100% effort in everything he does. At times, you’ve got to slow him down.
“That’s how I love to coach players. Just keeping him in the right frame of mind will be the next step. He’s going to be another one that’s just easy to throw in there and know what you’re getting.”
Mbake, a 6-3, 203-pounder from Kennesaw, Ga., lettered on special teams last season, but he did not record a catch.
Fastball starts
KJ Jefferson went 3 for 3 during the five-play fastball start sequence for the starters Thursday. He completed two passes to Andrew Armstrong, one on each edge of the field, and a third to tight end Luke Hasz down the left sideline. Running back Raheim Sanders had one run that would’ve been a good gainer during the sequence and he also lost the handle on his final carry as the play was ending, but quickly scooped it up.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Aidan McCowan broke up a Cade Fortin slant pass intended for Marlon Crockett on the first play for the third unit.
Tailbacks AJ Green and Rashod Dubinion had two carries each for the second and third units, respectively.
Injury update
The defensive line has been the most affected by camp nicks and bruises through five practices as three players from that unit were on the sidelines during the media viewing part of Thursday’s practice. Big transfer Anthony “Tank” Booker was on the sidelines for part of Tuesday’s work.
Coach Sam Pittman said none of the injuries should be of the long-term variety.
Transfer Keivie Rose had a second day on the sidelines, as the 303-pounder from Louisiana Tech came off the indoor field during Tuesday’s work.
Joining him Thursday were ends Jashaud Stewart and John Morgan, who had participated in the start of practice.
“Hopefully we get them all back by Saturday,” Pittman said. “One or two of them could be [today]. There was three of them, I think. Stewart just injured the back of his heel, but I would assume he’ll be back [today]. Tank and Kevie, Tank’s was a little bit of a knee and Kevie was an ankle. But I think if they’re not back by Saturday, it’ll be Monday.”
Camp focus
The latest college football realignment news is of little concern to Coach Sam Pittman, who is in camp mode six practices in to the season.
News in recent days has revolved around the Pac-12 imploding, as the league is being raided by the Big Ten and Big 12. The SEC announced in the summer of 2021 the additions of Texas and Oklahoma, who will join the conference next season.
“You know guys, nothing’s happened in the SEC,” Pittman said Thursday when asked about the latest in realignment. “So for me to be concerned about what’s going on in the Big Ten and the Pac-12 and all that kind of stuff.
“I appreciate the question. I do. But I mean, some things are really out of our control and if they’re out of our control, I don’t know why my opinion really matters, to be perfectly honest with you. It doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t affect our team, it doesn’t affect the state of Arkansas.”
A/C delay
The persistent rain early this week put the installation of the first air conditioning system at the Walker Pavilion into a delay. The unit was originally expected to be online by Thursday, but crews were still on site and at work putting in a brick retaining wall and other aspects of the system.
“I think what happened is it rained so much and we had all those things happen, I think it put us behind just a little bit from my understanding,” Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said. “What I’ve been told is Saturday, as soon as we get out of here — we’ll probably get out of here as a coaching staff around 5 or 6 o’clock. They’ll shut down the electricity and get in there and fill her up I hope. That’s what I’ve been told.”
Extra points
• Junior running back Raheim Sanders was named to the watch list for the Doak Walker Award and sophomore linebacker Chris Paul was named to the Butkus Award watch list on Thursday. The Doak Walker Award, won by the Hogs’ Darren McFadden in 2006 and 2007, is given to the nation’s top running back. The Butkus Award goes to the nation’s top linebacker.
• The Razorbacks will work in spider pads today to be more rested and ready for Saturday’s first major scrimmage of camp.

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