State of the Hogs: Finding more bullets

By: Clay Henry
Published: Monday, November 5, 2018
NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Connor Noland (13) carries the ball as Tulsa Golden Hurricane linebacker Zaven Collins (23) tackles during the second quarter of a football game, Saturday, October 20, 2018 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Connor Noland (13) carries the ball as Tulsa Golden Hurricane linebacker Zaven Collins (23) tackles during the second quarter of a football game, Saturday, October 20, 2018 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

— Do you need bullets to go deer hunting? Arkansas coach Chad Morris didn't on Saturday, but his coordinators didn't want to try it.

And, by the way, they spent much of the previous week trying to find more ammo for the Razorbacks with next year in mind. Defensive coordinator John Chavis and Joe Craddock, his opposite number on offense, had some chuckles Monday when told of the hunt their boss went on with his son.

Morris said he went to see Chandler play quarterback Friday night for Dallas Highland Park, then spent Saturday in the deer woods with Chandler. Morris said he “didn't even have bullets in my gun. I had no desire to do anything but sit there.”

Actually, Morris said there was some real hunting going on. Chandler did have a loaded gun, but didn't get a shot.

“I was willing to help him clean a deer,” Morris said. “But, he didn't get one.”

Morris said he'd never before gone to the deer woods with an empty rifle and admitted it would be like "going fishing without a lure."

Chavis said there are two ways to look at a trip to the deer woods. It could be a scouting mission and in that case there would be no bullets. Or, Chavis said, “Maybe he didn't want to shoot one.”

There was a follow-up thought from Chavis, a noted hunter.

“When I go, you can bet your bottom dollar I'll have bullets in the gun,” Chavis said.

Craddock had a different twist on the conversation. He's moved on from gun hunting.

“I wouldn't have bullets,” he said. “I'm a bow hunter. So if it wasn't a scouting trip, then I'd have arrows for sure. Other than a scouting trip, I'd load up and shoot.”

The Hogs have lacked bullets (or arrows) this season on both sides of the ball. Morris didn't say that, but he did say the recruiting evaluations have been all about adding speed. The Hogs have 22 commitments so far on their board, with as many as 29 possible because of open hold-over spots from last season's class still available.

There were some evaluations of that class on Monday after last week's open date produced scrimmages almost every night after the starters and regulars went through an abbreviated practice.

There was talk about the three offensive linemen in the true freshman group: Ryan Winkel, Silas Robinson and Noah Gatlin. Gatlin started two games, but could still redshirt. Winkel and Robinson have not played.

Gatlin is probably slated to play tackle down the road. Winkel has worked at tackle with Robinson splitting time at guard and center.

“Ryan was out of the picture at the start of the season because of his injury, but he's really progressed,” Morris said. “He's getting work at right tackle and has done well on the scout team.

“Silas is working a lot at guard, but is transitioning to center. He worked both last week.”

Winkel and Robinson are excused from the early meeting time to head to the weight room each day.

“We call that our power hour and most of our young players are in the weight room at that period of meetings,” Morris said. “They are getting that needed core strength.”

Morris was asked about possible standouts in the late scrimmage time for the youngsters last week, something that will continue the next two weeks since the Hogs are not going to get bowl practice development, usually good for those who did not play much.

First to be mentioned among the true freshmen were safeties Joe Foucha and Myles Mason, along with cornerback LaDarrius Bishop. Morris also said true freshman quarterbacks Connor Noland and John Stephen Jones got “major reps” last week.

Redshirt freshman wideout Koilan Jackson, recovering from knee surgery in the fall of 2017, got mention for a catch from Noland for a big play to open a youthful scrimmage Sunday night “on an RPO play.”

One of the tasks moving forward is to find linebacker depth. True freshman Bumper Pool has gotten major snaps, including two starts and the major part of three games because of Dre Greenlaw's injury. But with Greenlaw (expected back this week) graduating and De'Jon Harris left with only one remaining season, Chavis knows he'll have to find some help.

True freshman linebacker Andrew Parker has recently returned to practice after sustaining a severe hamstring injury early in fall camp. He's considered a top prospect.

“He's rusty,” Chavis said. “But what I've been able to see is that he's changed his body. That hamstring didn't prevent him from (upper body) lifting. Last week was the first time he was full speed.”

Sophomore Dee Walker has impressed during the open week. Chavis coaches the linebackers.

“The scrimmages were good for Dee,” Chavis said. “He's very, very talented. He's still in the process of learning. What we've got to do is get him to do the right things at the right times. That's my job. I'm pleased with his ability to work hard and take advantage of this time.”

Chavis said he spent the Saturday at home with the idea of “not watching any football.” That didn't happen. After knocking out a pork chop sandwich left for him by wife Diane, he walked around the house for a bit, then settled in front of the TV.

Craddock had the day planned for him by wife Abby, due any day with their second child.

“We spent the day as a family of three,” Craddock said. “I took Charlie (almost 3) shopping for winter clothes, then she and I watched football. She's really gotten to where she enjoys that with me.”

The family is set to grow to four soon. Son Kane is to the due date. If he doesn't come before, doctors will induce labor Thursday.

“That's the plan,” Craddock said. “It could be any day.”

Craddock has spent the last two weeks getting the fine points of the LSU gameplan ready.

“There is a little more to be done, but we are close (on the game plan),” Craddock said. “That's the good thing about the open date.”

The gun isn't loaded yet, but it may not be long before that's the case at Arkansas.

Chavis said he's not into next year just yet. He said he'll play his top two linebackers, Harris and Greenlaw, every snap if that's what it takes to win a game.

“I'm win first, build second,” Chavis said. “If it means we play two linebackers the whole game to win, that's what we will do.

“I promise you I couldn't look at myself in the mirror if I said we are looking to next year.”

Either way, the Hogs are finding more bullets for when next year arrives.

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