JEFFERSON, ENOS IN LOCK-STEP ON RAZORBACKS’ NEW OFFENSIVE SCHEMES
Sam Pittman offered an ultra-encouraging line when speaking to reporters shortly after Arkansas’ spring scrimmage on April 15. Quarterback KJ Jefferson is a proven commodity. After 16 wins, including two bowl victories, and two full seasons as the Razorbacks’ starter, there is little remaining mystery. He is among the best in the country at – or regardless of – his position. Throughout spring drills, the staples of a team can become secondary. Interview opportunities are often geared toward learning about offseason additions expected to make an instant impact, like defensive back Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson and wide receivers Andrew Armstrong and Isaac TeSlaa, and getting updated intel on players such as Taurean Carter, who returned to the field in March following an ACL tear in April 2022. Jefferson this spring was not the subject of questions often. But after throwing for 131 yards and two touchdowns in the Razorbacks’ final scrimmage, Pittman was asked to assess his captain’s work. And, unprompted, he brought Jefferson’s bond with new offensive coordinator Dan Enos to the forefront. “I think obviously KJ had a good spring,” Pittman said. “I think he’s really taken to Dan. That’s not saying anything about Kendal (Briles). I’m just talking about Dan. He’s taken to Dan, and Dan has done a nice job with him. Kendal did, too. “I think he’s a more knowledgeable quarterback for the NFL simply because we’re in an NFL system. I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence.” Before dropping that nugget, likely music to many fans’ ears, Pittman added that Jefferson thoroughly enjoyed all of the team’s work and his time with Enos. Jefferson later echoed that statement. “It’s been fun,” Jefferson said, “just being able to talk the same terminology, being on the same page, understanding what plays he’s going to call on certain downs and distances. Just being able to just go in there, we pick each other’s brain, just go in there, get on the board, talk about different plays or what he’s thinking on this play and stuff like that.” During spring drills, Jefferson was struck by Enos’ attention to detail. The coordinator stresses fundamentals, and Jefferson added that he appreciates how technical Enos is in all aspects of quarterback play. The prioritizing of daily improvement should help the redshirt senior take another step forward individually and build on a 2022 season in which he completed 68% of his passes and threw for 2,648 yards and 24 touchdowns. Jefferson noted that he believed Arkansas needed a mind like Enos possesses to elevate the offense’s ceiling. “I’m just embracing each and every day with him,” Jefferson said. When Enos was brought on board in January to replace Briles, Pittman had more than an inkling that his returning starter and new hire would develop synergy. That confidence came from a firm understanding of Enos’ history developing top-tier quarterbacks, including Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama, and Jefferson’s want to be anything but ordinary. But the meshing process takes time and requires work, Pittman said. They were eager to take that on. What he saw from the clear-cut leaders of the offense on the field and behind the scenes was the forming of a “big mutual respect.” “I think KJ and Dan have a really good relationship,” Pittman added. “I think KJ believes Dan can coach him to be not only a better quarterback at Arkansas, but (have) a lot better opportunity to be in the National Football League by understanding pro-type schemes and checks, and things of that nature. I think certainly KJ is bought in to that. “I think they’ve got a really nice relationship. … When you take to somebody, you trust them and you believe that they care about you, and you believe that they are knowledgeable and they can help you. My feeling is KJ believes that in Dan, and I know Dan certainly does in KJ.” It is not a stretch to believe Jefferson can carry bits of knowledge and experiences gained from a new coordinator and apply them with his cast of playmakers in 2023. For a second consecutive season, his top targets are expected to be a set of transfers. This year, the pieces are TeSlaa (Hillsdale College) and Armstrong (Texas A&M-Commerce), who went through spring drills. Bowling Green addition Tyrone Broden, a 6-7 receiver who finished with 506 yards and seven touchdowns in 2022, should also factor in when healthy. Jefferson’s past play and actions – rapidly connecting with transfers Matt Landers and Jadon Haselwood last year – indicate he is plenty adaptable. It is a quality characteristic to couple with a strong will to succeed. Pro Football Focus data shows Jefferson was among the highest-graded quarterbacks in the country in multiple areas last fall. He recorded an overall offense grade of 90.8, which was tied for seventh best with Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker. Jefferson was also tied for 13th in terms of passing grade (86.5) and his running grade (79.9) was 15th. Only three quarterbacks – two from the service academies – totaled more run-play snaps. “I love it, man,” TeSlaa said. “He’s that dual threat. I knew about, obviously, his running ability. I’d seen the highlights and everything. Just catching a ball from him, I feel like that thing is always a tight spiral and he’s going to put it in the right spot. “It’s been great and I feel like he’s really meshing with all the receivers really well.” Armstrong said Jefferson played a role in his decision to transfer to Arkansas. Like TeSlaa, he was impressed with the quarterback’s high-level ability to throw when needed and create and improvise with his feet. “If anything is in trouble – if anything is in trouble – he’s going to tuck it and run,” Armstrong said. “Move out of his way, please.” The Razorbacks in 2023 will be more multiple offensively than in years past. Jefferson, through last season, operated primarily in the Shotgun, but Enos has worked him out under center, too, adding to the depths of the offense’s looks. “We’ll be under center, Shotgun, Pistol. We switch it up all the time,” Jefferson said. “Coach Enos has just told us he wants us to get comfortable starting off under center and just mixing up different things, different footwork and things, trying to get us comfortable for this upcoming season. “Our main thing is to look complex but remain simple. We want to do a lot of different shifts. We want to line up many different ways, but still running the same plays. I would just say our main thing is to look complex but remain simple.” That is right up Jefferson’s alley. Making the complex appear simple is nothing new for him.