FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ belief in T.J. Hammonds is evident in the fact he played as a true freshman last season.
His role is expected to expand greatly this season. During the spring, he is working exclusively with the wide receivers. That will add to a dual running back-receiver to Arkansas’ arsenal.
“We can really create problems by using him as a back and a wide receiver both,” offensive coordinator Dan Enos said. “He can’t play wide receiver part time because there’s too many adjustments, too many alignment things, too many detail things if you don’t do it.”
“We want T.J. on the field,” Mitchell said. “Right now, the best way to get him on the field is at receiver. We’re just trying to get T.J. in position, because he’s so talented, to where he’ll be able to get some touches.”
This probably sounds familiar to fans in the central part of the state because Hammonds had a similar role while playing at Pulaski Robinson in Little Rock.
The former four-star athlete carried the ball 218 times for 2,914 yards and 36 touchdowns and caught 80 passes for 1,996 yards and 21 touchdowns in three seasons with the Senators.
Arkansas hopes to showcase that play-making ability on Saturdays this fall.
“The goal is to get him a bunch of touches every game and if we can use him as both, hand it off to him and throw it to him, it’ll obviously help him and it’ll help our team get some explosive plays,” Enos said.
Although he ended the 2016 season as the starting right guard and earned a scholarship in December, Johnny Gibson has not worked with the first- or second-team units during the open portions of Arkansas’ first two spring practices.
“Johnny had a team issue that is keeping him out of the first group or actually getting team reps, period,” Anderson said. “He’s doing individual work. He’ll work his way back in there when Coach Bielema sees fit for that.”
Gibson began his career as a walk-on from Dumas, Ark., and slowly worked his way into the rotation. He was a backup lineman in 2015 and at the start of last season, but earned the starting right guard spot during Arkansas’ bye week.
“My advice to him is that people make mistakes, but at the same time, you’ve got to learn from them,” Anderson said. “He’s got to turn this into a positive and attack every workout, every practice, every opportunity to get back into the trust of his teammates, his coaches and himself.”
Feels Like Home
The college town and home of the Razorbacks is similar to his hometown of Greer, S.C., as well as several stops during his coaching career, including at Georgia Southern and Texas Tech
“Fayetteville is no different than Statesboro, Ga., or Lubbock, Texas, just with the community (and) the way those places feel about their programs,” Scott said. “It just feels like home. Greer, S.C., is where I call home and to me it’s a lot like Fayetteville.”
It is a huge difference from his last stop as an assistant defensive line coach for the New York Jets, where he was for two years.
“New York City, New Jersey was really the only time in my coaching career where I’ve been in a crazy city-like place,” Scott said. “As soon as I would open my mouth, the first thing was, ‘You’re not from here.’”
Arkansas hired another linebackers coach during the offseason, but they’ll have a de facto third coach this spring.
While rising junior Dre Greenlaw won’t participate in drills after having another surgery in January, he’s been on the field in his jersey with a boot on his right foot.
“We are going to keep him engaged mentally for sure,” Hargreaves said. “There’s going to be rust. There’s no way around that.
“But the more he can stay into it mentally and have an idea about what’s going on…if we keep him engaged and hearing it all, he’ll be fine.”
Greenlaw was Arkansas’ leading tackler before he went down with a broken foot midway through the season. He returned for the Belk Bowl and made six tackles against Virginia Tech.
Unfortunately for him and the Razorbacks, he may have rushed back too soon. A few weeks after the bowl, news broke that Greenlaw had suffered a setback and required a second injury.
That is a mistake Arkansas hopes to avoid repeating.
“We talked and he wants to be out there, but we’ve got to make sure that thing is going to be fully healed before we go down that road again,” Hargreaves said. “We don’t want to do that anymore.
“We’ll take our time and as long as it’s 100 percent, then we’ll go from there.”