FAYETTEVILLE — While already inviting graduate transfer John Ridgeway the option of returning for his 2022 season’s eligibility NCAA blanket granted from 2020’s COVID disruptions, Arkansas coach Sam Pittman expressed pleasure Wednesday knowing his 6-foot-6, 320-pound defensive nose guard has been invited to play postseason in the Senior Bowl.

Actually playing in the set up for the NFL scouts Senior Bowl would irrevocably set Ridgeway’s course to turn pro in 2022. But just being invited to this Senior Bowl would seem to improve his NFL stock should the 2020 Illinois State University early graduate return to Arkansas.

“I’m happy for Ridge,” Pittman said Wednesday. “Certainly we’re talking to him. We’d like for him to come back. We think he can increase his draft status, but that’s between Ridge and I and we’ll figure it out. But that’s (a Senior Bowl invite) certainly a great honor, especially for a guy who came from an (FCS) school to reach his dreams. Certainly proud of him.”

Regardless of what he does about the Feb.5 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, Ridgeway thrusts in the middle of this week’s game plan in Alabama. The Razorbacks, 7-3, 3-3 in the SEC ranked 21st by the College Football Playoff Committee, play the nationally No. 2/reigning national champion Alabama Crimson Tide, 9-1, 5-1, in Saturday’s CBS televised 2:30 p.m. SEC West game at Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

Ridgeway, starting to get healthy again during the bye week before the Razorbacks won 31-28 and 16-13 SEC games from Mississippi State in Fayetteville and LSU in overtime in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, played an outstanding white collar/blue collar role against LSU.

Ridgeway’s white collar stats included a sack among three tackles. Linebackers Bumper Pool, Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry appreciate Ridgeway’s blue collar. They combined for 34 tackles against LSU in part. The former Illinois high school wrestler tied up would-be blockers like a human traffic jam.

“He was consistently holding two guys in a gap,” Pittman said. “Anytime your linebackers are playing really well, probably the O-line is not getting up to them. It’s not a sexy job, but it’s a very valuable one. He held the point, made some plays in there. He’s a big man and played with good leverage and good hands. I thought it was one of his best games.”

And finally a completely healthy one.

“He had a leg beat up maybe the last two or three weeks,” Pittman said prior to the open date week. “I thought that it healed up a little bit better for him. I felt his quickness was better, his strike was better.”

Conversely, Pittman needs about everybody on his offense trying to get a piece of Will Anderson, the Alabama linebacker lining up all over the place and making 67 tackles including 12 quarterback sacks.

Pittman was asked on Wednesday’s Zoom press conference about those assigned to get a piece of Anderson.

“Well you’ve got to block him first,” Pittman replied laughing. “Is that a trick question? Hopefully it’ll be both sides that they move him. I think primarily on our left, but they do move him. Hopefully, our tight ends will get a piece of him. Our running backs will get a piece of him, and our tackles. Putting him one-on-one with a tackle for the entirety of the game, it just doesn’t make any sense. We’ve got to plan for him, and hopefully we can execute it.”

Withheld from the LSU game apparently because of concussion protocol after injured the previous week against Mississippi State, punt returner Nathan Parodi resumed cleared for practice this week and likely will return punts and kickoffs against Alabama.

True freshman Bryce Stephens did an outstanding job replacing Parodi returning punts against LSU but Pittman would like to keep him redshirted if possible.

Stephens has played in three games, four is the max a player can play and stay redshirted.

The Hogs have three left visiting Alabama Saturday, closing the SEC season on Nov. 26 hosting Missouri at 2:30 p.m. on CBS at Reynolds Razorback Stadium and then a bowl game to be assigned after all the December conference championship games are played.

Pittman prefers Stephens practicing for the bowl game as a bowl eligible to play redshirt.

“I think the bowl prep would be better for them knowing they can play in the game,” Pittman said of Stephens and any others with just one game left before forfeiting their redshirt restoring 2021 eligibility into 2022. “So, he’s a little bit in that situation. We’re not going to play him insignificant reps, but if we need him, we’ll go ahead and use his redshirt year. We’re very aware of him and would like to hold it until the bowl game if at all possible.”

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