Saturday scrimmage likely to slot playing time

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Arkansas quarterback Nick Starkel looks to pass Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas quarterback Nick Starkel looks to pass Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville.

With Arkansas and other college football teams now limited by the NCAA to just 24 practices in 29 days before the season opener, each practice and each scrimmage becomes that much more important.

The Razorbacks went through their 11th practice of the preseason Wednesday morning with workouts slated for Thursday and Friday ahead of a key scrimmage on Saturday.

The scrimmage will begin to flesh out who will get more reps as Arkansas goes from training camp to turning an eye toward Portland State on Aug. 31.

“I would like to come out of this scrimmage with a really good indication on both sides of the ball of who are we going into that first game week with,” Morris said, “and start two weeks out really repping those guys and getting them ready to go. That’s our goal as a staff and hopefully we will get there.

“We will have one more scrimmage. It will be that following Wednesday, but that is our goal right now.”

That includes the starting quarterback position, where a battle between graduate transfers Ben Hicks (SMU) and Nick Starkel (Texas A&M) is being waged.

Morris does not have a specific timetable on when he will make his decision public.

“Sure, we'll end up announcing it at some point,” Morris said. “We've got two really good (scrimmage) opportunities ahead of us and we've got some live situation that we'll get into. ... We’ll eventually announce it, just at the right time.”

Morris said freshmen wide receivers Treylon Burks (6-3, 228), Trey Knox (6-5, 205), TQ Jackson (6-4, 197) and Shamar Nash (6-3, 195) could all be in the rotation.

“I would see, if not all four, three of the four,” Morris said. “You’re going to see those guys playing.”

All four have stood out in camp with Jackson and Knox doing so in Wednesday’s practice.

“I think today, TQ Jackson has really got elite speed,” Morris said. “He made a couple of really good catches. Trey Knox, his birthday is today. He had an unbelievable day today. This is two days in a row that he has put together two straight practices. He hasn’t been as consistent as I wanted him to be during camp. We’ve challenged him a little bit, but that comes with being a freshman.”

Last Saturday's scrimmage ran 175 snaps, but this weekend's won't last as long and won't be inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on its new natural grass surface as Morris had hoped.

It will be attended by several former Razorbacks as Arkansas hosts them for a cookout.

"We won't be in the stadium this week," Morris said. "It will probably be another week before we get out there. I do not anticipate going as long. We're excited to have a lot of our former players back in town and being around our players, our team.

"I don't anticipate it being a 170-plus plays. We'll go well in excess of 100 plays. But we've got it more kind of by design more situational. I want to see what we do in first down play, second down, and we've got a lot of red zone work this week. Short yardage work this week and that will all carry over to Saturday in the scrimmage as well."

Coaches certainly have less time to practice than they did back in the day when teams could hold two-a-days with very limited time constraints.

Two-a-days went away in 2017 under several new NCAA rules that were instituted following the structured guidelines created by the NCAA Sports Science Institute.

“It’s practice 10 and you only get so many opportunities to get this football team ready for the season,” Morris said. “Once the season gets here, we all know how fast it goes. We get two good practices (Tuesday and Wednesday) a week, so trying to develop a young man during the course of a season is really hard.”

Injuries are a part of playing football and Arkansas has had its share of minor ones this camp, but Morris says Razorbacks coaches do their best to keep them from happening.

“Football is a contact sport. ... But when we do practice and understand how to practice the right way and staying off the ground, those injuries are less likely to happen.”

Morris expounded on practicing the right way under the NCAA limits that allow just one live contact tackling practice and one live contact thud practice each week to go along with three no-contact practices.

“We try to teach the tempos of practice that we go through and we are always showing video of guys taking care of each other in practice,” Morris said. “If we can practice full speed and know what the tempo is, you don’t have to bring guys to the ground every play.

“You can’t do that and the (NCAA) rule says you can’t do that anyway. But we have to learn to practice the right way and it has been such an emphasis for the coaching staff on teaching our young man how to practice the right way. You do that and you get a lot of stuff done.”

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