Arkansas plans to play several true freshmen early

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Saturday, August 18, 2018
Arkansas defensive back Joseph Foucha participates in a drill Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, during practice at the university practice field on campus in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas defensive back Joseph Foucha participates in a drill Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, during practice at the university practice field on campus in Fayetteville.

— It appears that several true freshmen could see significant snaps in Arkansas’ season opener against Eastern Illinois in two weeks and some others could at least make an appearance.

Razorback head coach Chad Morris, offensive coordinator Joe Craddock and defensive coordinator John Chavis all brought up guys who had earned time after Saturday’s scrimmage.

It helps that a new NCAA rule allows freshmen - or any other player who has not redshirted - to play up to four games at any point in the season before burning a redshirt.

“It really does,” Morris said. “With us being able to play them in four games and still be able to redshirt them, those guys that we feel like are ready right now to play, then they’re going to absolutely (play) … We’re ready to have them in there and get them playing.

“And to see after that fourth game, are we committed to saying, ‘All right, we’re all in with them.’ Or at that point going, 'Maybe we thought they were more ready than they were in the first couple games, so let’s hold them. Maybe they’ll get ready later in the year.’ There will be a lot of strategy that will be involved there.”

It does not have to be the first four games, according to Morris.

“As far as the redshirt rule, it’s any four,” Morris said. “You can play them in the first one and then the final three. Or you can play them in the first one, the final two and a bowl game. Really, it’s any four games that you can play them in.”

With the new rule in place, Craddock plans to see early what he has from true freshman signal callers Connor Noland and John Stephen Jones.

“I think you’ve got to play them early to see what they’ve got, you know,” Craddock said. “When we hit Game 4 in the SEC West, we’ve got to make sure those guys, if they are a guy, we’ve got to make sure they know what they’re doing. They’ve seen the live bullets, and again last week they took the black jersey off and went white and we really saw what the other half of their game is and that’s being able to run, extend the play, and those guys have done a really good job.

“They’ve also gotten 1 reps, as well. We’ve also allowed them to get in there with our 1s and mix it up. And again, I want to go back and grade the film, but they did some really good things when they were in there today with the 1s and the 2s.”

The new redshirt rule allows coaches a free early view of how freshmen will react under pressure in a game.

“We’re in a situation, like Coach (Morris) said, with the redshirt rule, you could play those guys early and see what they can do,” Craddock said. “ But kind of like an offensive lineman, the D-linemen are moving faster than high school, the secondary’s moving faster than high school...linebackers. And so, we’ve got to make sure we get them in there early and if they are a guy, they’re the guy, and if not then we’ll still be able to redshirt them.

“I love the rule. I love what we’re allowing them to do and really find out if they can play at this level at a young age or not.”

Safeties Joe Foucha and Myles Mason, linebacker Bumper Pool, defensive ends Nick Fulwider and Courtre Alexander and cornerback LaDarrius Bishop are among true freshmen defenders that have been praised for their work in preseason camp.

Fulwider (6-7, 260) certainly has the size for an SEC defensive end.

“This guy is an absolute giant,” Morris said. “A young man that eventually is … He’s not there yet, as most freshmen aren’t, but he’s got a tremendous upside and he’s figuring this whole thing out.”

Fulwider has certainly impressed Arkansas defensive end Gabe Richardson.

“Wow. Hey, Nick is one guy who is just going to splatter people every single time,” Richardson said. “ … That boy is strong. He can put a shoulder on you any time. We go through camp and he goes four or five straight days in a row hard contact every time. Nick likes that. And he’s a freshman. Coach calls him (former Razorback and current NFL player) Deatrich Wise all the time.”

Richardson is already predicting an NFL future for Fulwider.

“He’s very explosive,” Richardson said. “During the summer we worked on his pad leverage and how it shoots out. He’s shooting his hips. He’s going to be a (NFL) lottery pick at some point.”

Alexander has made a push this week while starting defensive end Randy Ramsey has been out with an injury.

“Courtre Alexander is another young man, a true freshman from Owasso, that about the last five practices you’ve really seen him doing some good things and growing and maturing,” Morris said.

Injuries on the offensive line have forced rookies Noah Gatlin and Silas Robinson into plenty of preseason reps with the first and second teams.

“I’ve been extremely proud of these two young men,” Morris said. “When you start talking about Noah Gatlin, who is going to have a phenomenal career, I mean, he’s a tough kid. I’ve said that all camp long. He’s impressed us all. For a guy like … for a true freshman to come in here and get as many reps as he’s gotten says a lot about him. It says a lot about his mental toughness. I’ve been very pleased with Noah.

“Silas Robinson’s another one. A young man, again, just a true freshman. He came in here playing guard, and he’s gotten a lot of reps. You would love to have to the depth where they don’t get that many (reps) and you slowly bring them on. But we’ve tossed them in there, and they’ve done a great job. I’m very proud of both of these young men as they continue to grow and mature. They’ve got a great future here.”

Freshman receiver Mike Woods is another true freshman expected to play.

Morris knows some of his freshmen aren't ready for a college game as of now, but could be at the end of the year and still be able to redshirt.

“They need to continue to get what we call our ‘power hour’ and they need to continue to get into some scout-team work, and work on their craft," he said.

“So it’ll be interesting to see how that works. But I definitely think it gives us an advantage, especially early in the year, playing at home, being able to have some depth early on.”

Arkansas coaches are set to break the team into varsity and scout teams this weekend.

“We’ll go into scouts starting Tuesday, what we call split scout,” Morris said. “Actually, that’ll probably happen tonight as a staff. We’ll talk about that a little bit and we’ll start that Tuesday, but we’ll still do a lot of good-on-good for Tuesday and Wednesday. We’re not ready yet to go into straight game prep mode. We need to get some more live work and some more situational stuff, so we’ve got that Tuesday and Wednesday.”

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