2018 National Signing Day:

Concentrated effort: Morris says size of first Hogs’ class not a worry

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, February 8, 2018
Arkansas coach Chad Morris speaks to reporters during a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Chad Morris speaks to reporters during a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Arkansas Razorbacks had little chance to break into the top 30 classes in the recruiting rankings with the limited number of initial scholarships available to first-year Coach Chad Morris and his staff.

The Razorbacks honed in on very specific areas and added eight players on national signing day Wednesday, giving the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville a 16-man class that is No. 54 in the 247Sports composite rankings, which is last in the SEC. Every other school in the SEC signed at least 19 players.

Morris said the class, which features a pair of four-star signees and 14 three stars, could grow by one or two players -- the Razorbacks are in the hunt for Dorian Gerald, the nation's No. 1 junior-college defensive tackle who said he will sign on Friday.

"I think, in two years, you'll look back and go, 'OK, wow, those guys made a huge impact in this program,' and not looking back and thinking we reached on some guys that either didn't stay or they don't have the impact that we wanted," Morris said. "Those 16 guys are going to come in and they're going to make people uncomfortable. They're going to push guys that maybe have gotten comfortable on this roster, and to see where they fit."

Said assistant head coach Jeff Traylor, "Yes, we had a small class, which on one hand hurt us because it didn't look as good or as sexy. But on the other hand it helped us because we got here so late, it allowed us to target our needs and go after a few kids and spend a lot of our time on a few kids.

"I'm afraid if our class had been really big we might have signed a bunch of kids, but it might not have been the quality we needed. So in our opinion, this was a deal of quality over quantity, and next year we want both."

The full class features nine defensive players, four of them linemen, and seven offensive players, including three linemen.

Morris said a push for defensive players was important.

"I thought especially after getting our defensive staff together and looking at the depth of what we had, on Jan. 4 ... and going from a 3-down to a 4-down front, we've got to have a great need for that true rush end coming off the edge," Morris said. "So you'll see some guys on the roster now that are going to have to change positions and maybe move down to become that rush end to get us what we want.

"We felt like we've addressed some of the needs, but we're always going for more. One of the things I would say, too, speaking defensively is -- in particular in this league -- you've got to have depth."

Signing day provided a slight bit of drama, as the Hogs got a commitment and signature from safety Joe Foucha of New Orleans and linebacker Andrew Parker, also of New Orleans, who stayed with his pledge when some thought he might flip to Texas.

"Andrew was a sought-after young man, and those are the kind of guys we want to recruit that have an interest from a lot of different schools," cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator Mark Smith said. "At the end of the day he had a comfort level about us and our staff and being here, and so did his family, that we weren't going to let him down and that we would develop him as a person, as a student and as a player."

The Razorbacks also were able to keep 6-6 offensive tackle Ryan Winkel of Memphis Christian Brothers in the class.

"We held off Tennessee pretty much all week," offensive line coach Dustin Fry said. "They were coming on strong, so being able to hold them off was big. To me, I think he's diamond in the rough."

Winkel and Noah Gatlin of Jonesboro joined early signee Silas Robinson as the new offensive linemen.

Defensive coordinator John Chavis said the coaching staff feels good about the entire class.

"Certainly if they're on our board, they're talented enough to play in the SEC," Chavis said. "Then it's who does the best job of developing them and who does the best job of retaining them, keep them there.

"When we evaluate, and I've been doing it 40 years, we don't want to recruit a guy that we can't see, with some development, moving on to the next level in the NFL. So I want to recruit NFL players out of high school."

The Razorbacks understand they have to keep improving team speed.

"We've got some work to do and we've got to recruit more speed, I do believe that," defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell said. "We got a little bit of that speed this year, but we're going to have to do a great job getting more of it in the future."

Arkansas added defensive lineman Courtre' Alexander of Owasso, Okla., to the three early signees of Isaiah Nichols of Springdale, Billy Ferrell of Fordyce and Nick Fulwider of Tyrone, Ga.

"I'm super excited about this class," defensive tackles coach John Scott said. "I got a chance to get to know Nick really well through the recruiting process.

"I'm excited that Isaiah Nichols is already here ... and B.J. Ferrell, that kid can move. He's a big kid and he's strong and powerful. He's got basketball-player-type feet."

Foucha and Myles Mason of Trussville, Ala., are the new defensive backs, pairing with early signee Ladarrius Bishop of Ashdown.

Parker joined early enrollee Bumper Pool as the team's linebacker signees. Pool and quarterback Connor Noland of Greenwood were the Hogs' two composite four-star signees.

The Razorbacks signed two quarterbacks, with John Stephen Jones -- the son of former Razorbacks linebacker Stephen Jones -- joining Noland. Morris said he always wants to have five scholarship quarterbacks and running backs on the roster.

The Razorbacks had to go light on skill talent, signing receiver Mike Woods early and adding junior-college running back Rakeem Boyd, a former Texas A&M signee, on Wednesday. Boyd, who has three years to play three, had a previous recruiting relationship with Traylor.

"He's fast, he's big, he's violent, and he changes directions well," offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said of Boyd. "He's just overall what you're looking for at running back and he fits our system."

Said Traylor: "He's big at 6-1 or 6-2, he weighs over 200 pounds, runs a 21.7 in the 200 meters, so he can really roll. So he's experienced, he's big, he's fast, he's powerful."

Morris wrapped up his news conference by saying the star ratings have "zero" impact on him.

"Absolutely none," he said. "I don't care what other people think of other programs. I care about our program.

"I want football players. When you peel it back and they're excited to be about the Razorbacks and about the state of Arkansas, that's what excites me.

"If I've got to beg them to come here, then I'm going to have to beg you to play and nobody is going to last then."


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