Morris' first class a step in right direction for UA

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Thursday, February 8, 2018
Fordyce High School senior Billy Ferrell (left) signs a letter of intent to play football at the University of Arkansas on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, in Fordyce. Joining Ferrell was his mother Rene Stuckey (right) and younger brother, Malik Harden (center).
Fordyce High School senior Billy Ferrell (left) signs a letter of intent to play football at the University of Arkansas on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, in Fordyce. Joining Ferrell was his mother Rene Stuckey (right) and younger brother, Malik Harden (center).

Every college football coach in the country stepped to the podium on Wednesday and gushed over their 2018 signing class.

Chad Morris was no exception and heaped much praise on his 16 signees, eight of which came in the Dec. 20-22 early signing period, and thus praised his band of future Razorbacks.

No doubt he will feel even better if Santa Clarita (Calif.) College of the Canyons star Dorian Gerald (6-foot-5, 260 pounds), the nation's top junior college defensive end and a badly needed rush end, adds his name to the class on Friday when he announces.

But the new coach didn't go overboard on Wednesday, and I think that was wise with a class that is the only one of the SEC's 14 programs to not be ranked in ESPN's Top 50.

The class is 54th overall and also last in the SEC in 24/7's rankings as the conference had seven teams in the Top 20.

Morris preferred to laud the eight Arkansas signees from December and the eight on Wednesday as players that will simply help the Razorbacks move the ball down the field in rebuilding the program.

"I think in two years you'll look back and go, 'OK wow, those guys made a huge impact in this program.' And not look back and go, 'Wow, we reached on some guys.' I'm excited about the 16," Morris said.

Morris, who took over 61 days ago, knows that he has a big challenge ahead.

"What excites me is the fact that what we can do as we build this program up," Morris said, "in just being the best we can be one day at a time, are we a better football program right now than we were 61 days ago? And the answer to that is yes.

"And that's the only thing that matters to me is, 'Are we going to get better today?' And we are. We signed eight guys that are going to make a contribution to this football program added to the eight in December and those 16 guys are going to come in and they're going to make people uncomfortable. They're going to push people that maybe have gotten comfortable on this roster. When you get that, you've created some competition."

Morris and his staff, a group that had just 33 days together, did put in the work trying to land the best class they could.

Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock noted he and many other assistants have spent just five nights in Fayetteville in the past month as they have been on the road recruiting night and day, doing their best to land some difference-makers.

"I think Fayetteville is a great place, but to be honest I haven't seen a lot of it here lately because we were just on the road all the time," Craddock said.

A better measure of their ability to recruit will come with the 2019 class after they will have had over a full year to cultivate.

Morris, Craddock and defensive coordinator John Chavis looked over the roster, saw a lack of speed, a lack of enough talent and some personnel moves that will need to be made.

Morris noted he has the right amount of quarterbacks and tailbacks on scholarship (five each), but too many wide receivers (14).

He will not use fullbacks as much as the previous staff, but still sees some value in those and loves what he has to work with in terms of tight ends.

There is not as much talent or as much depth as he would like on the defensive side of the ball -- a big reason nine of the signees are defensive guys.

The last staff wanted its players to be "Uncommon." The new one wants its players to simply make plays, no matter their shape or size.

"I want football players," Morris said. "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 you to come here, then I'm going to have to beg you to play and nobody is going to last then."

Sports on 02/08/2018

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