Adding speed and depth main focus of coaches

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Thursday, August 15, 2019
Arkansas coach Chad Morris directs his players Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Chad Morris directs his players Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville.

Arkansas football coach Chad Morris and his staff collectively put on a brave face when they took over the program back in December of 2017.

They said a lot of good things, but truth be told, the former staff left nowhere near enough speed, size, and especially talent, on the roster to compete with the middle of the SEC, much less the top.

Exhibit one is the fact that Arkansas has won only 6 of its last 26 games overall and only 1 of its last 16 SEC games.

Speed, size and talent were at least three of the main factors, albeit not all, in a 2018 season that crashed and burned into a 2-10 campaign that took its place as the worst mark in school history.

Will there be a turnaround? How long will the rebuild take?

There are no concrete or easy answers to that question, but at least the roster is being overhauled, and that's got to be a good thing.

Of the 79 or so scholarship players on the 2019 Arkansas football roster, 53 have been brought in by Morris and his staff.

Who knows how many wins that will translate into this season, but being at morning practices these past two weeks, it's clear it is at least a more aesthetically pleasing roster.

The roster is faster, bigger, stronger and at least is taking steps, baby or otherwise, toward what an SEC roster is supposed to look like.

"I think you look at all positions and you see we had to address speed," Morris said. "We did, and we're faster. We're not where we need to be, but we're getting faster.

"We've addressed depth in the offensive and defensive lines. You've seen that, and we're going to continue to grow and develop those guys that we have on our roster."

According to Morris, the next challenge is getting everything you can developmentally out of those players.

"The developmental part of that, now that we've created some depth, is how do we develop guys?" noted Morris. "How do you develop them to grow into the player you want them to be? A player that is a freshman is not going to look the same as he will when he's a senior.

"But we've got a plan in place that by the time they are a senior we're going to see their absolute best football. How are we doing that? It's through our offseason development, it's through our summer training and what we're doing right now."

Arkansas could sign 21 players in its 2020 class, but that number may continue to go higher with any transfers, current Razorbacks going pro or hardship injury declarations.

Razorback defensive backs coach Mark Smith notes the main focus of the 2020 class is to add more playmakers.

That's why Arkansas is likely to take three or four signees at both wide receiver and in the secondary after loading up on offensive and defensive linemen with 13 in the 2019 class.

"We're always looking for fast, but really skill positions, speed, is always like a premium," Smith said. "But we're looking really for DBs. This will be probably another three or four DBs that we'll take commitments from and sign in December or February, but really it's the skill position spots."

Smith notes the Razorback staff does over-recruit in case available scholarship numbers go up.

"We kind of have a gauge of a number that we keep in mind, but it's always a moving target," Smith said. "Things happen on your current team, and sometimes you anticipate it and sometimes you don't. It's kind of a moving target.

"We always set the number high and that way we're recruiting enough guys at each spot. Then we kind of see where the numbers fall out, but it's something that we always want to shoot higher than we need."

No one would dare say that the Razorbacks are where they want to be in terms of depth and quality, but Smith does see noticeable improvement from day one.

"I think that this training camp is a good example of that," Smith said. "We've got a full load of guys out there in a 120-man roster, so we're building the depth that we need, and it's still a really young team. The majority of our team are either true freshmen or redshirt freshmen or redshirt sophomores.

"The team is still really young, but numbers-wise we're able to go four groups now out there (on the practice field), so we couldn't do that a year ago. So now we've got four groups, you're developing guys all across the field, which benefits everybody, and that's just something we weren't in a position to do a year ago."

Sports on 08/15/2019

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