State of the Hogs: Arkansas is improved at midway point in camp

By: Clay Henry
Published: Thursday, August 15, 2019
Arkansas coach Chad Morris (left) directs his players Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville. Visit nwad.com/photos to see more photographs from the practice.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Chad Morris (left) directs his players Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville. Visit nwad.com/photos to see more photographs from the practice.

— I was able to attend the start of practice Thursday as the Arkansas football team prepares for the second scrimmage of August training camp.

After talking to several trusted sources who have seen them all, I'm ready to provide some thoughts as the Hogs head into Saturday. Some who have seen the scrimmages like the look of these Razorbacks.

What is noticable is that this team is faster and more physical. It's clearly better at quarterback than the team that went 2-10 last year.

One veteran observer thinks K.J. Jefferson is going to be a really good player in time and imagines a package that will include some QB runs. He's a tailback playing QB. He's not as accurate as the other three on a consistent basis, but has a gun.

Nick Starkel, who was with the first team early in practice Thursday, is clearly bigger and stronger than the rest of the QBs. He just looks like a big athlete, although his speed is not anything special. The ball does come out of his hand really well.

The Starkel arm is not like Ryan Mallett, Joe Ferguson or Tavaris Jackson, but it's strong.

Speaking of Mallett, I talked with him at practice today. He's slim and trim. He looks like he did in college. He's dropped about 40 pounds since the end of football season last year.

"My lady friend (and I took that as his girl friend) cooks great and it's all healthy," Mallett said. "I didn't know eating healthy could taste so good. I was at 270 and I've dropped all of that extra weight and feel wonderful. I had a wonderful turkey burger last night. I'm moving and feeling better. I'm working out every day and hoping for a call to play some place."

Mallett told me his lady friend is from Lead Hill. I know that area and it's great if you like the outdoors and fishing. Ryan grew up more of a city boy in Texarkana, playing football and basketball. But he's gravitating more to the outdoors and loves to duck hunt. He's fishing more. He looked and sounded great.

Back to the Hogs, this looks more like an SEC team than the last couple of seasons. The offensive line has a solid look to it. Oh, it doesn't help that Colton Jackson and Austin Capps are out with injuries that don't sound serious, but depth is better able to handle such losses than last year.

I really like junior college transfer Myron Cunningham. He was running with the ones at left tackle today with Colton Jackson nursing a foot injury that required a couple of days off. Colton has had a good fall, according to everyone. But he better get back out there soon because Cunningham could take that spot and never look back.

I like the way Dalton Wagner moves at right tackle. Kirby Adcock and Shane Clenin are no slouches at guard, either. There is little doubt that Ty Clary is much improved.

O-line coach Dustin Fry said after practice that Cunningham didn't have a great finish to practice and needs to finish with a strain. He'll be challenged to do that in the scrimmage on Saturday.

It looked like Cunningham (6-6, 290) plays with a low pad level for a big man. That will help with the run blocking. Adcock (6-5, 288) could use a bit lower pad level, as noted by Fry after practice when he met with the media.

Depth everywhere is much improved. That's the big difference between this time last year. It just looks like more guys could be ready to play in an SEC game.

Of course, I tend to look at offensive linemen the most and that's what I did today. But I did get good looks at some of the QB drills. They all throw it more accurate than what the QBs did last year. This team catches it better, too.

Justin Stepp, the wide receivers coach, was not happy with the finish at today's practice and said his room will be challenged before Friday's workout. He said Mike Woods and Deon Stewart have been the most consistent players.

As far as the others, a couple of freshmen have been standouts most days. If you don't like Treylon Burks and Trey Knox, then you don't know football.

They jump out at you just the way they warm up and carry themselves. Both have an attention to detail and great hands to go with a long frame. And, they are the real deal from everyone who sees practice daily. One day maybe Burks looks the best. Then, the next day it's Knox. But they rarely have a bad day.

If safety Jalen Catalon is not a player, I'll be stunned. And, the one who jumps off the page when you watch him move and explode to the ball is safety Joe Foucha. He's got a captivating personality, too. So does Catalon.

I tend to hang out with old-timers and former coaches and there are several who see practice on most days. They like this team.

No, I'm not ready to make any predictions, but this team is headed in the right direction in year two under Chad Morris.

One of the highlights before practice was a visit with Grant Morgan's dad, Matt, before practice. Grant did graduate this past May in pre-med (with almost a 4.0) and is now in grad school.

Grant Morgan is the kind of player who is going to do everything right and help the team in many ways. He's learned both linebacker spots, although Hayden Henry has now done that, too.

I like the depth at this position and believe John Chavis has improved this unit in many ways. You'd expect that from a great linebacker coach, and The Chief is that.

I did watch the D-line a bit. The tackles were doing sled drills that emphasized punch. I don't know that I could tell a whole lot.

I watched one drill that worked on defensive ends trying to brace for double teams. Steve Caldwell was in a teaching mode with the youngsters. Most struggled with that.

True freshman Mataio Soli went to his knees and didn't brace properly. It was one play. Nothing about that drill is easy. It was fun to watch an old defensive end coach teach a youngster.

The second time Soli did it, he was in proper position and handled the double team. He didn't exactly split it, but he held his ground.

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