Summer months critical for Arkansas after pleasant spring

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Thursday, April 12, 2018
Arkansas coach Chad Morris speaks with players Wednesday, March 28, 2018, during practice at the university's practice facility on campus in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Chad Morris speaks with players Wednesday, March 28, 2018, during practice at the university's practice facility on campus in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Chad Morris came away pleased with how his first spring as Arkansas' football coach unfolded, but he knows there's still a lot of work ahead. It begins almost immediately.

From now until the end of April, players will meet with their respective position coaches and coordinators prior to wrapping up with Morris by month's end.

Once completed, the plan is to begin forming a depth chart. Morris said he expects a bit of attrition following the end-of-spring meetings, but to combat that, he and his staff will do what they've done since their arrival: recruit.

"We'll see where everybody fits," Morris said. "We'll go through that, and we'll rally and have a plan. We'll recruit every day for team speed. I think that's really one of the deficiencies we've really got to address. Obviously, offensive and defensive line and creating depth there is huge.

"We definitely improved from where we started (this spring). We've got a long way to go as I've shared before. We've come a long way, but we've got to have a great summer, a great fourth quarter."

The head coach, when asked to grade Arkansas' overall spring performance, gave the team a C. There is still much improvement to be made, he added, and players understand that.

Depth was added at key positions and more help is on the way as the remainder of Morris' first signing class makes its way to campus in the coming months. He added that the newcomers must hit the ground running, but at the same time, the staff is counting on players within the program now to remain committed and challenge one another.

Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock is eager to get the summer phase underway as well and better the pace at which the offense operated during the spring game last Saturday in Little Rock. Ideally, Craddock wants to see Arkansas at "100 mph." He personally clocked quarterbacks Ty Storey, Cole Kelley and the rest of the unit at "60" in the Red-White game.

Craddock and Morris opted not to flash much of the offense in the spring game that had been worked in the preceding weeks. They wanted to stay basic with Day 1-2 install - plays they felt the players had a very firm grasp of.

"They've got to continue to work that this summer," Craddock said. "The offensive line has to find the ball and line up, the receivers have to get the call quicker and line up quicker as well. I think it's a new offense, new signals. ... Once they get that I think it'll play a lot faster.

"I think now that we're going into the summer those guys will pick it up on their own. That's a huge emphasis for us, and I think by fall camp we'll be faster and by game one we'll be ready to go."

There has also been an emphasis placed on pushing "quiet leaders" out of their comfort zone.

Tight end Austin Cantrell, among the more respected players in the locker room, falls into that category, Craddock said. La'Michael Pettway and Jonathan Nance stand out at receiver, and running back is more by committee. Hjalte Froholdt is the unquestioned leader on the offensive line.

Craddock also expects a good summer from Storey and Kelley, who have both taken ownership of mistakes and consumed themselves with the playbook.

It's mostly about consistency with the quarterbacks. Kelley came on over the final 6-7 practices. Storey finished strong.

"For each of them, the knowledge of the game, what we have to do is help the game slow down for them," Morris said of the quarterbacks. "They're processing a lot offensively and when you do that the game speeds up and you try to be rushed in making a decision. One thing I am pleased with is we have a good competition going."

Defensive coordinator John Chavis saw a lot of mistakes in the spring game in film review, but he was satisfied with the competition, which was expected.

Randy Ramsey, who totaled a pair of touch sacks last weekend, was the first name out of Morris' mouth when going over the defense's spring surprises. Linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Scoota Harris were next, then cornerback Ryan Pulley, who had three pass breakups Saturday.

Chavis isn't going to say much about any individual at this point, but he does have guys on his side of the ball he feels confident in. Some are "at a different stage," while others have farther to go in terms of improving to see significant playing time.

Safety D'Vone McClure, the 24-year-old former minor league baseball player, made waves this spring and capped it with a strong showing in Little Rock.

"In a lot of cases, and you don't want to offend anybody, but you say some things that are pretty close to being facts and somebody gets offended by it," Chavis said. " ... There's a difference in being 18 and being 24. He's more mature mentally and physically."

This summer will be vital for Arkansas' defense, coming off its worst statistical season in school history in 2017. Proper training and improvements must be an every day thing, Chavis said.

"It's not a deal where you go out and play for a couple weeks then take a break," Chavis said. "These kids go right into another cycle, and they've got to get ready to go again. It's a year-round commitment."

What takes place during the usually quiet months of the calendar will be evident in August. Right now, all Morris is concerning himself with is preventing Arkansas from beating Arkansas.

"When we can get that done, then we have a chance to go play other teams," he said. "Our daily focus is just getting better."

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