Hogs have plenty of issues in spring

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Sunday, March 3, 2019
Arkansas coach Chad Morris (left) instructs freshman defensive back Devin Bush during a practice Friday, March 1, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Chad Morris (left) instructs freshman defensive back Devin Bush during a practice Friday, March 1, 2019, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas conducted a closed morning practice Saturday to complete Day 2 of spring football drills.

The Razorbacks, aiming to bounce back from a 2-10 season Coach Chad Morris' first season, will be able to don pads starting this week.

Arkansas has issues that have to be addressed across the board, on all levels of the offense and defense as well as special teams during the 15 spring practices.

Morris credited the team for pushing through tough winter workouts under strength and conditioning coach Trumain Carroll and his staff.

"So excited to see there is a noticeable difference in their bodies and their conditioning," Morris said last week.

"And obviously the expectations as you would expect in Year Two. There is a noticeable difference in our culture, which was mandated and demanded by everybody in this building."

Team members had to earn back their Razorback gear through winning offseason workouts and their locker room, which has been under construction to install new state-of-the-art lockers.

The top issues the Razorbacks face for the remainder of spring drills, which conclude with the Red-White game on April 6.

Sort out the quarterback spot

It all flows from here. The Razorbacks must get an upgrade at this position to give themselves a better chance in the hazardous SEC. The results of last year's quarterback play are manifested in the transfer decisions of senior Ty Storey and junior Cole Kelley, who accounted for 11 of 12 starts, with eligibility remaining.

Enter Ben Hicks. The graduate transfer from SMU knows the nuances of the Morris-Joe Craddock offense, and he's been providing that insight to the other quarterbacks and the rest of the unit through the winter.

No question the quarterback spot needs the assistance of better protection, a stronger running game and more dynamic skill players surrounding him and those areas look to be better in 2019.

Hicks clearly had the look of a leader on the first day of spring drills. The rest of the quarterback group included John Stephen Jones, Daulton Hyatt and Jack Lindsey, but not Connor Noland, who has been playing for Dave Van Horn's baseball Hogs, or freshman signee KJ Jefferson, who has not yet enrolled.

Texas A&M graduate transfer Nick Starkel was an on-campus visitor this weekend, and there's a chance he could be added to the mix.

Taking speed to the field

The Arkansas coaches recognized that lack of team speed in all areas was a major concern in 2018, so they took strides toward upgrading that deficiency through recruiting.

However, having fast players and then setting them up to display that speed in a game -- for instance Alabama's Jerry Jeudy on a crossing route touchdown at Reynolds Razorback Stadium just before halftime last year -- are two different matters.

Understand the schemes and reacting instead of thinking how to play as big a role in game speed are areas of improvement, so there should be strides made in that area.

Cornerbacks Devin Bush and Gregory Brooks will add in with redshirt freshman LaDarrius Bishop to the mix of cover players

Blocking and protecting better

The Razorbacks have to generate a more reliable run game and give their quarterbacks more time to throw. That begins on the offensive front, where veterans Hjalte Froholdt, Johnny Gibson and Brian Wallace have departed.

Offensive line coach Dustin Fry is encouraged about having a stronger depth chart, which featured 12 available linemen to open spring drills. Returning left tackle Colton Jackson and sophomore Shane Clenin were singled out as having made big strides in winter conditioning. Ty Clary is a returning starter at center. Noah Gatlin preserved a redshirt after appearing in four games last year and he's expected to have a good battle with Dalton Wagner and junior college transfer Chibueze Nwanna right up into the season.

Austin Capps gets first shot at left guard. His toughness and motor have never been questioned, and a full year of playing the spot after transitioning from defensive tackle should help immensely.

If the Razorbacks can stay healthy, the offensive line should be an upgrade.

Bulking up at linebacker

De'Jon "Scoota" Harris' return was a significant plus for defensive coordinator John Chavis' unit. But the Razorbacks have to replace Dre Greenlaw and identify more impact players.

Bumper Pool and Deon Edwards should upgrade their playing status with better knowledge of the schemes, and Grant Morgan, Hayden Henry and Giovanni LaFrance all have a chance to take more snaps along with redshirt freshman Andrew Parker.

Improving coverage

Jarques McClellion went from a redshirt to a starting job at cornerback after Chevin Calloway's early season issues last year. Ryan Pulley departed early, leaving a chasm in experience and opening up playing time for Bishop, Brooks and Bush. Britto Tutt's recovery from another knee issue will determine his status this summer. D'Vone McClure is back at the nickel spot, which needs more depth.

Kamren Curl is the lone returning starting safety after Santos Ramirez's departure. Joe Foucha, Myles Mason, Montaric Brown and the currently injured Micahh Smith are all jockeying for time at safety.

Making more plays at receiver

The Razorbacks were tied for 102nd in the nation with 88 pass plays of 10-plus yards last year, along with Kansas, Rice and Tennessee at that rank.

Needless to say, Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock crave a more explosive attack from their receiving core.

The Razorbacks have suffered attrition at the spot, costing them leading receiver La'Michael Pettway. Veterans such as Deon Stewart, Jordan Jones, De'Vion Warren and Koilan Jackson are back, and they will be joined by a four-member class of four-star standouts.

Two of them are in spring drills -- Trey Knox of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Shamar Nash of Memphis.

The Razorbacks have upgraded in speed, with TQ Jackson considered a legitimate 4.4 guy in the 40, putting him in competition with Stewart and Jones among the fastest players on the team.

Sports on 03/03/2019


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