Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Morris: Mindset 'completely different' entering Year 2
Coach Chad Morris speaks during the Razorbacks Kickoff Luncheon, Friday, August 16, 2019 at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers.
ROGERS — Chad Morris did not feel the need to go back over Arkansas' 2018 season Friday during the program's annual kickoff luncheon at the John Q. Hammons Center.
But he did assure a room of roughly 900 fans that he has seen a great deal of growth from Razorbacks players and a shift in team culture over the last year. All of that, paired with an improved roster, has led to plenty of enthusiasm from the second-year coach.
"You may not have (seen growth), but it was happening. It was happening inside of the walls of the Fred Smith Center," Morris said. "Excited about what we’re building. It’s amazing. You work a little faster when you know where you’re going. You can do a lot of things in Year 2 a little bit better, and one of those is playing football.
"We’re going to play football a little bit better. I can promise you that. ... Something special is happening. We've got to feel it and more importantly you've got to believe it."
Following opening remarks from athletic director Hunter Yurachek and a Q&A segment with running back Devwah Whaley, receiver Mike Woods, linebackers De'Jon Harris and Grant Morgan, defensive tackles TJ Smith and McTelvin Agim, offensive lineman Dalton Wagner and kicker Connor Limpert, Morris provided a position-by-position update on key players for the upcoming season.
Arkansas' defense has a chance to be much improved, he said, and it begins with Agim and Smith up front, and Harris at the second level. Morris and Harris, a senior, have had 1-on-1 meetings this offseason regarding the direction of the program.
"To have a leader like that come up here and be a part of this football team and make an investment in the young lives, again, very powerful when you see the things that are happening with our linebacker corps with coach (John) Chavis," Morris said.
In the secondary, safeties Kamren Curl and Joe Foucha have grown into leaders. Foucha, Morris added, has been one of the team's top performers in preseason practices. He is looking for contributions from a talented group of freshmen, too, which includes Devin Bush, Greg Brooks and Jalen Catalon.
"We are expecting great things out of the defense," he said. "I expect them to be special. I think they have a chance to really put our football team in position to do great things."
At quarterback, transfers Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel have elevated the room through competition. Morris jokingly told fans in attendance hoping to learn of the team's starter to "relax."
"It all starts in the quarterback room and we all understand that," he said. "All the great teams that I’ve ever been a part of, all the great teams that you see out there on Sundays and Saturdays and Friday nights and Thursday nights, and if you’re Pop Warner, on Mondays. The one thing they have in common, they have a guy back there, or guys back there, who can make things happen.
"We’ve got that. We’ve brought in some guys and we’ve got some guys that have been here. ... I will tell you this, these young men, we’re going to have to have them to win. We’re going to need to have that room at their best to win."
Whaley and junior running back Chase Hayden were commended for their professional approach, and Rakeem Boyd, the team's leading returning rusher, was labeled as one of the SEC's top talents. Trelon Smith, too, a transfer from Arizona State who is not eligible to play in 2019, per NCAA rules, has turned heads in camp.
"There’s not a better scout-team running back in the country this year than Trelon," said Morris.
Tight end Cheyenne O'Grady, who underwent surgery this week following a minor injury, will return in time for Arkansas' season opener against Portland State on Aug. 31, according to Morris. Offensive lineman Colton Jackson, held out of practice multiple days this week due to a foot injury, wore a walking boot on his right foot at the event.
In wrapping up his roughly 20-minute speech, the coach took time to give shoutouts to a number of the team's walk-ons such as defensive backs Brenden Young and Simeon Blair, who will contribute most on special teams, and receiver Tyson Morris, a first teamer during live work in Thursday's workout.
"There's several walk-ons that we've brought in that have made this football team better," he said. "You'll hear their names for years to come, so I'm excited about that. I could talk all day about our players because they're in a total different mindset than they were in a year ago - completely different.
"These guys have given everything they've had to us since January. Our culture has never been stronger and I've never been more excited."
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