Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Familiarity breeds more accountability
Arkansas wide receiver Keon Hatcher photographed during practice on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Keon Hatcher wants to make sure Arkansas’ pass catchers know the importance of hanging on to the ball.
There is a price to pay this spring for drops.
“Anybody drops a pass, it’s 10 push-ups,” said Hatcher, a junior and a leader among the receiving group along with senior Demetrius Wilson. “If you drop a pass that you for sure should’ve caught, it’s 20.
“I say that for myself, but I also hold those guys to a standard so they can make themselves work harder. It’s either you’re going to catch the ball or you’re going to have a big chest.”
The Razorbacks, who go through their third spring practice today, their first in full pads, know they have to get better at all the little things to improve on last season. Arkansas is looking to make huge strides on offense after ranking 11th in the SEC in total offense with an average of 357 yards per game, 12th with an average of 20.7 points per game and 14th in passing with an average of 148.5 yards per game.
Arkansas lost its final nine games in a 3-9 season, making for a long off season of introspection.
“Obviously we wanted to get out there sooner to get last season off our minds,” quarterback Brandon Allen said.
“It felt like a super-long winter since we didn’t go to a bowl game,” Hatcher said. “We’re out here working to make sure that doesn’t happen next year.”
The path toward improvement includes concerted steps like holding on to more passes, fumbling less, throwing more on-target passes, holding blocks longer and having fewer blown assignments.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney entered the media room after Tuesday’s practice and stood beside a reporter and junior tailback Jonathan Williams, waiting to ask if Williams carried the football “high and tight” on every carry that day.
“I had the ball high and tight on every play,” Williams said, laughing.
“I’ll have to go watch that on video,” Chaney responded.
The Razorbacks have a lot of returning talent on offense - led by tailbacks Williams and Alex Collins, Allen, tight end Hunter Henry and offensive line starters Brey Cook, Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper and part-time starter Grady Ollison - to begin their road to recovery.
“We’ve had just great recall,” Williams said. “It’s our second year in the offense, so everybody’s able to recall what we did in the past year.”
They also have an underrated facet in football: Continuity on their coaching staff.
Chaney and all four assistants - line coach Sam Pittman, receivers coach Michael Smith, tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr., and running backs coach Joel Thomas - are back.
“I don’t know how you put a number on it, but it’s incredibly important that everybody knows one another and knows what the goals are and knows how it needs to be done,” Chaney said. “I don’t know how you rank that, but in the big picture it’s incredibly important, as far as the stability in the staff, to have success.”
The same goes with so many returning players, Chaney said.
“We talk about it all the time,” he said. “You know everyone in your room. You know their personalities a little bit better, and they know the offense better.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 03/20/2014