The Arkansas Razorbacks open fall camp for the 2020 college football season on Aug. 17, a big day for new head coach Sam Pittman and his staff. After all, when the coronavirus shut things down in mid-March, the Hogs were one of a few Power 5 programs that had yet to start spring practice.
While players were able to begin individual workouts in July and have conducted walk-throughs with coaches, fall camp will mark their first real practice exposure — and first time in pads, period — to Pittman and his highly touted staff. Quite frankly, fall camp should have a definitive spring practice feel to it. With the start of the SEC season pushed back to Sept. 26, the Hogs and their league brethren can slowly acclimate into the 2020 campaign, especially important for an Arkansas team that missed out on spring ball. Pittman said the Hogs’ six-week preseason camp would include three practices the first two weeks, five practices in week three, four practices the fourth week and five each of the final two weeks. Teams must take two days off a week, and Sunday will be one of those off days for Arkansas.
“We can really take what we missed in the spring and funnel that in the next three or four weeks and allow Sam and his staff to not feel so rushed to put so many things in if we were going to start on Sept. 5,” he said. “This is really a blessing for our football program, having a new staff, for Sam and his staff to take their time putting their systems in and evaluating their players on the field.”
Of course, strict social distancing guidelines will be enforced across the sport when feasible (football is a contact sport, after all). Coaches and support staff will wear masks and some teams (not Arkansas, at least not yet) may attach clear, plastic visors to players’ helmets. Team meetings will be conducted outside when possible.
In Fayetteville, and most likely everywhere ultimately, the plan is to test weekly during camp with rapid response tests deployed the nights before games or on game mornings.
Thus far, the Arkansas program has fared well in terms of positive cases among players and staff. Of the more than 300 Razorback athletes, coaches and support staff members on campus as of July, less than 10 have tested positive, and there were no known active cases as fall camp commenced. By comparison, as of June 26 alone, Clemson had reported 37 positive cases among football players and another 10 among football staff members.
Dr. Sheldon Jacobson, a researcher with the University of Illinois, recently told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd that he expects a 30 percent to 50 percent infection rate of the approximately 13,000 players competing in Division 1 college football this season. He also projected “three to seven” deaths among players due to COVID-19.
Yurachek met with players and coaches the week before camp started to assure them that player safety was the paramount concern. But, “They are just excited to play football. That’s the reason we push forward,” he told media members.
No team yet knows who their first opponent will be on Sept. 26, but the Hogs know they’ll be playing a conference-only slate of 10 Southeastern Conference games. That’s not the formula for a quick rebuild, but Pittman simply is grateful to get on the field with his team.
“Our staff is already working on plans to get our team ready to go,” he told the media last week. “Our entire program is excited to know we’re going to play football starting Sept. 26.”
— Mark Carter