FAYETTEVILLE — Because COVID-19 protocol canceled the entire 2020 week’s gathering, then first-year Arkansas coach Sam Pittman did not talk about his season debut at last year’s SEC Football Media Days.
Now because of last year’s COVID-19 pandemic, linebacker Grant Morgan and offensive left tackle Myron Cunningham as 2020 seniors become 2021 seniors accompany Pittman representing the Razorbacks at SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Alabama.
The pandemic variously altering schedules and canceling events, including canceling Arkansas’ Texas Bowl game in Houston against TCU, prompted the NCAA restoring 2020 eligibility in 2021 to players on college rosters last season.
Greenwood’s Morgan, a UA grad already with a masters degree and eventual goal of med school, is a sixth-year senior. Morgan redshirted as a 2016 freshman walk-on under Bret Bielema, lettered as a reserve under Bielema in 2017 and scholarship reserve under Chad Morris in 2018 and 2019 before blossoming under Pittman and defensive coordinator Barry Odom to be an All-American/All-SEC starter in 2020.
Always glib with a quote, as is his older brother, Drew Morgan, (a Razorbacks receiver lettering under Bielema from 2013-2016), Grant will be welcomed by media in Birmingham looking for fresh material ending four long days interviewing 14 head coaches and 28 players.
Football Media Days peak what retired Florida and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier calls “the talking season” of preseason prognosticating before the players start practicing in August.
Aug. 6 marks the Razorbacks’ first practice leading into their 1 p.m. Sept. 4 opener against the Rice Owls at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Cunningham, a 2019 transfer from Iowa Western Community College, has a tale to tell growing bulking from the 6-foot-6, 280-pounder that Morris recruited into the heavyweight (330 pounds) that Pittman was noted for when his Arkansas coached offensive lines Bielema outweighed lines in the NFL.
Cunningham, “a steady veteran,” Pittman says, not only became a bigger player but the most durable, too.
Among the 705 snaps that Cunningham played last season, including 42 on the field goal and PAT teams, was every snap other than the punt team played by a left offensive tackle.
Precocious freshman impresses
Among the early-birds of the Razorbacks’ 2021 freshman football class that as December high school graduates participated in spring practice, it seemed none more impressed Pittman than Jayden Johnson, the 6-2, 206 defensive back from Cedardtown, Georgia.
“Very talented,” Pittman said. “Big. Very smart guy.”
The talent and size projects Johnson playing some day. The smarts could make that some day right away.
“There’s different reasons why young kids don’t play,” Pittman said. “They may not be able to learn the playbook or they aren’t quite big enough or physical enough. He doesn’t have any of those deficiencies. He basically was able to come in here with his size, with his brains, with his strength and walk right in and be a force. He’s going to be a really good player for us.”
Johnson’s spring drills certainly encourage. But it behooves Razorbacks fans not to go overboard about one flashy spring from an early grad while overlooking the incoming freshmen reporting after traditionally graduating high school in May.
Ever since the NCAA allowed the December signing period, which feeds into college coaches pressuring recruits to graduate high school early and college enroll in January to participate in spring practice, it seems football freshmen are deemed behind if they don’t enroll early.
So it should be noted the Razorbacks most heralded third-year players, receiver Treylon Burks and safety Jalen Catalon, were still completing graduation in high school while some of their early-bird freshman teammates received raves during the Razorbacks’ 2019 spring practices.