Arkansas returns to spring football practice

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Chad Morris, Arkansas head coach, Saturday, March, 9, 2019, during spring practice at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Chad Morris, Arkansas head coach, Saturday, March, 9, 2019, during spring practice at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Whether Chad Morris becomes the next high school coaching legend turned college impact coach is yet to be known.

But it cannot be denied that Morris, the second-year University of Arkansas head coach, knows what winning football looks like.

Morris hopes to see things trending in that direction today when the Razorbacks resume spring drills with their eighth practice at the Smith Center fields.

The weather, which had presented a series of frigid days before a small relenting for the last couple of work days, projects to be close to ideal today, with a high of 60 degrees, a sunny sky and a minimal chance for rain at the 4:30 p.m. practice. Arkansas will practice four times this week, concluding with a big scrimmage on Saturday.

The media will get a longer-than-normal glimpse of the Hogs today, with full-length viewing available for the first time since the spring session began.

Before Morris and the Razorbacks took off for an extended spring break, he gave an idea of what he wants to see during the second half of the spring season.

"Today we did a little bit of live work at the end and it was good to see the energy level," Morris said on March 12. "We've got to continue being a tougher football team and we've got to practice tougher. We've got to demand to be tougher. I think we're definitely stepping in the right direction."

The Razorbacks' defensive players were jacked up after the final practice before the break, with cornerback Jarques McClellion coming into the interview room with the championship belt given to the prevailing side of the ball draped over his shoulder.

The defense has "won" the belt, often by virtue of takeaways created, through the first half of spring. However, most of those turnovers have occurred with the scout-team type offensive players on the field.

Still, defensive coordinator John Chavis' analogy of cranking a lawnmower to stand for the act of ripping footballs free from skill players has been a big motivator.

"We've had a real good spring," junior safety Kam Curl said that day. "I think the whole team is having a real good spring. It's a different feeling out there. It's more competition."

McClellion, a sophomore who started the final nine games last year, said the defenders have been inspired by practicing for the belt.

"If we can get the belt every day of spring, we're going to get the belt every day in spring," McClellion said. "It's competition. You're not out here to play to lose.

"Our coach tells us that every day. We're out here to win. We want to win. That's what we're doing. The defense is competing every day."

It's not unusual for a defensive unit to be ahead of an offense this time of the year, and for the Razorbacks that is particularly true. Arkansas will be breaking in a new starting quarterback behind at least three new offensive line starters in 2019 after enduring a 2-10 season.

While the running back corps returned nearly intact, led by Rakeem Boyd, Devwah Whaley and Chase Hayden, the position has endured its bumps. Boyd is out the entire spring as he recovers from shoulder surgery and Whaley missed time the final week after being dinged up with an undisclosed injury.

The receiving corps, which lost top performer La'Michael Pettway, brought back several key contributors such as Deon Stewart, Jordan Jones, De'Vion Warren, Michael Woods and tight ends Cheyenne O'Grady and Grayson Gunter, but there will be a large influx of newcomers at those spots, led by true freshmen Trey Knox and Shamar Nash, who enrolled early to go through spring drills.

Hayden suggested the lengthy spring break came at a good time, as there were several banged-up offensive linemen in the early part of the drills as well.

"Yeah, I think it's a good time," said Hayden, who had a 25-yard touchdown in the stadium to cap the first drive of the lone major scrimmage. "A lot of people are dinged up a little bit."

Transfer Ben Hicks has taken the majority of his snaps with the first-team offense.

Redshirt freshmen John Stephen Jones and Connor Noland, who attended three of the first seven spring practices due to his role as a starting pitcher for the Razorbacks, and redshirt sophomore Daulton Hyatt are the scholarship quarterbacks, and are joined by Jack Lindsey. Transfer Nick Starkel and freshman signee K.J. Jefferson will join the team this summer.

"I think you saw those guys really improve," Morris said of the progression of the quarterbacks. "I was pleased, as we were productive on Saturday [in the first scrimmage], even today, and obviously with what Ben Hicks has done in that room.

"I was pleased to see some of the decision making he had Saturday. I was very pleased with John Stephen. I thought he had his best day Saturday that he's had since he's been here."

Morris and all of his assistants have touted how much increased competition for playing time will benefit the Razorbacks in the fall.

"Competition helps a lot of things, and I think we're seeing that at quite a few positions right now," Morris said.

Sports on 03/26/2019

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