FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ first spring scrimmage provided a full-speed look at the Razorbacks’ new-look offense and defense on Saturday.
Coach Bret Bielema’s team ran 130 plays inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, splitting his first- and second-team reps equally with 52 plays apiece and the deep reserves getting everything else. With that came a first peek at which players look like fits in the new schemes and which have some development to continue.
Austin Cantrell, tight end
Bielema said: “Austin is probably as good a blocking tight end as I’ve had here and really before I came here. Austin Cantrell is a very special player. They’re talking about No. 15 (Myles Garrett) being a first-round draft pick for A&M. Go watch that A&M film, 44 has his way.”
Safe to say Bielema is thrilled with the sophomore. The coach did mention Cantrell has some things to work on the passing game, but with Cheyenne O’Grady’s development, those things are less pressing. Still, if Cantrell can become an option catching the ball, he might be the next great Razorbacks tight end.
Brian Wallace, offensive line
Bielema didn’t speak much about Wallace after the scrimmage other than to say he was happy with where he stood. Wallace has kind of locked down the job since taking over at right tackle about halfway through last season. He didn’t give up much of anything against the first-team defense on Saturday.
Austin Capps, defensive line
Bielema said: “Really, him and Bijhon [Jackson] had kind of rotated after last Saturday’s practice. Capps, I go back to his Star City days, being a good baseball player. He’s good with his hands, sudden.”
Capps overtook Bijhon Jackson for the No. 1 defensive tackle gig. While they’re likely to rotate and go nearly 50-50 or 60-40 when the season begins, Capps, a sophomore, making a statement to beat out a senior is a positive sign.
Jonathan Marshall, defensive line
It isn’t that Marshall played poorly on Saturday. It’s just that he barely played. Marshall was thought to be a contender for first-team duties the way coaches talked about him over the last few months. But Saturday, he played only with the third-team. And even then he was barely noticeable. Marshall has a ways to go to reach what was suggested.
T.J. Hammonds, wide receiver
Bielema said: “T.J., kind of a transition from running back. This was his first, real live look at receiver since he’s been in high school.”
Hammonds had more drops Saturday than any other receiver on the team. Those are going to come with a player adjusting to a new position. Hammonds was a specialist last year — a super-quick option out of the backfield. But with Rawleigh Williams III and Devwah Whaley holding the primary duties down and Maleek Williams looking like a legit third option, Hammonds was shifted outside. He still profiles as a long-term player out there, but Saturday wasn’t his best day.
Michael Taylor, linebacker
Bielema said: “Today was the first live scrimmage time. I’ve been impressed down on scout team, down on drills. I think he has to get used to setting that edge, play with his hands. He’s very athletic.”
Taylor is much the same as Hammonds. He was a defensive end before the switch to the 3-4. This is all new to him. Accordingly, some things are just going to be a struggle. The hope among Arkansas people is that the adjustment period is short. Too many times Saturday he was caught slipping too far inside. Cantrell and Wallace didn’t have much trouble sealing Taylor up inside and then letting the running backs bounce around him on the edge. It’ll come.