State of the Hogs: Newcomers turn heads, add speed

By: Clay Henry
Published: Thursday, August 9, 2018
Arkansas defensive lineman Dorian Gerald goes through practice Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas defensive lineman Dorian Gerald goes through practice Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— Six days into August camp, it's too early to tell which newcomer is going to get on the field in Chad Morris' first team at Arkansas.

But there are some signs that lots of newcomers have a chance to play, including newly arrived junior college transfers Rakeem Boyd and Dorian Gerald.

Boyd, a running back, and Gerald, a defensive end, both have SEC speed that the Razorbacks have sorely lacked in recent seasons.

There are also highlights from other newcomers, including true freshman offensive linemen Noah Gatlin and Silas Robinson. That's a position the Hogs are in great need with too many returnees sidelined with injuries. There have been times the last couple of days only nine offensive linemen have been cleared for contact.

There appears to be help in the secondary with true freshmen Joseph Foucha and LaDarrius Bishop, and redshirt freshman Montaric Brown. All are in the three deep now. That's an added burst of speed.

Freshman quarterbacks Connor Noland and John Stephen Jones both got time with the top two units in a 11-on-11 session to open Thursday's practice.

It's clear from listening to Morris after Thursday's practice that youth will be served.

“There are a lot of freshmen who have a chance (to play),” Morris said. “We've seen them with pads only two days and a lot is still left, but there are guys who are flashing.

“Joe Foucha is one. We haven't done much, but you can tell he's special.

“We are pleased with Day Day (Bishop). He's got speed. We've obviously talked a lot about the freshman quarterbacks.”

Morris said Boyd and Gerald “hit a six-day wall,” and are clearly not in the condition the rest of the team brought to camp after a summer with Trumain Carroll, the strength and conditioning coach.

“We had a lot of the young players hit that six-day wall today,” Morris said. “We have to pull them through the knot hole.

“Gatlin and Robinson are getting a ton of reps in the offensive line. With the guys we have out, that's forcing two freshmen to get some game speed reps. They've done a really good job. I'm proud of them and I'm proud of the older guys for pulling them along.”

There was also praise for defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols. The true freshman from Springdale enrolled in January and is not afraid to mix it up with the veterans.

“He's got a lot of fight,” Morris said. “I love it. He's a good one.”

There were 20 minutes open to the media on Thursday. It was an opportunity to check out the speed of the game when Morris opened in the 11-on-11 work.

Quarterback Daulton Hyatt scampered outside once, then executed a perfect option pitch to Boyd for a solid gain. Boyd converted a third-and-shot on another carry, meeting Nichols in the hole. That was a collision that both could say they won.

Gerald has the quickness that made him the nation's top pass rusher in the junior college ranks. He's got a skinny waist of an athlete and decent muscle on a 6-3, 260-pound frame.

It's clear that Morris covets speed over bulk. You see that in what's happened with Devwah Whaley in the offseason. He's a sleek 5-11, 209 now after playing at 225 last season. Morris thought he was over weight in the spring.

I saw a back who was on his toes and with a bounce in what Morris calls his “W Drill" - three levels of live work with a back that's free. You have two linemen battling at the first level, a tight end and a linebacker at the second, and a wideout against a defensive back at the third. Everything happens in a 10-yard wide zone.

Whaley danced more than I saw last year. He's not just a straight-line runner with a low pad level. He displayed some wiggle in that drill.

“He looks light on his feet,” Morris said. “He plants now and has vision. He sees it and makes the cut. He looks more explosive.”

That doesn't mean Whaley is “the guy” in the running back room. It's a daily battle to stay first on the depth chart. There has been a strong push from several, especially redshirt freshman Maleek Williams.

“I think we've got a great running back room,” Morris said. “There's competition and a challenge.

“Maleek has looked good. He's 225 (pounds) and runs hard. He had a good run today in short yardage.”

Morris said there was some adversity in Thursday's practice. The temperature reached 90 degrees by the end of the day with some humidity.

“There was some heat,” he said. “It was exactly what we needed. I hope it's 100 on Saturday (when the Hogs scrimmage). It's the best thing we could get. We had some adversity today and we did a good job of responding.

“We tapered a little bit today but then we finished strong. The finish is what it's all about, what we've preached.

“We want to create toughness, coach toughness and be relentless in our pursuit to the ball.”

There were some clear messages after Thursday's practice. With Dylan Hays still sidelined with a back strain, Hjalte Froholdt got his second straight day as the top center.

It might be more than just creating depth in case Hays misses game snaps. Asked if that could now be Froholdt's position, Morris hinted that it could be possible. Hays is expected back for Saturday's scrimmage and Froholdt will also get some time at guard.

Everything is going one day at a time, Morris said. But he likes the look on the right side with Brian Wallace at tackle, Johnny Gibson at guard and Froholdt at center.

“That side is solid,” Morris said. “Now we have to get the left side like that.”

The scrimmage will be in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. It will be the first time for a football play there since the final game of last season because of ongoing construction. Morris said it will be new for him, too.

“I've been out on the stadium field a little,” he said. “But I have not been in the (newly renovated) north end zone building since last winter. I think it was 9 degrees. I know it's going to be great and I can't wait. We are all excited.”

There is going to be a little more speed in the red and white than the last time the team set foot in the stadium. Some of it is because of a few less pounds on returnees. Some of it is in the newcomers.

That's the kind of renovation that will serve the Hogs the best. It's just as exciting as the new look of the stadium.

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