Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Chavis, Craddock pinpoint failings
Joe Craddock, Arkansas offensive coordinator, talks to the press Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, during a press conference with Arkansas football assistant coaches at the Smith Football Center in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- The self scouting conducted by the University of Arkansas football coaches during the winter could not have been fun.
Not after a 2-10 season.
That was the worst mark at Arkansas since it joined the SEC. The Hogs' 0-8 trip through the SEC ended with back-to-back slammings at Mississippi State and Missouri by a combined 90-6 score.
But the self scout had to be done.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock spoke last week about those findings and the way forward for the Razorbacks in 2019 with the start of spring practice looming Friday.
"I want to get good at what we do," Craddock said of the plan for spring drills. "That's the main thing. Obviously we weren't very good on offense at all last year, especially first-down efficiency."
The Razorbacks were 117th in total offense with 336 yards per game, which ranked 13th in the SEC. Their scoring average of 21.7 points was last in the SEC and tied for 113th nationally.
On the other side of the ball, Arkansas ranked 79th in total defense, allowing 413 yards per game, and 108th in scoring defense (34.8 ppg).
Arkansas was tied for 119th in turnover margin at minus 0.83 per game.
Improvement is needed everywhere.
Being a fundamentally sound unit is the primary objective on Chavis' side of the ball.
"The scheme will come and we'll build on it," Chavis said. "And let me say scheme is important, but scheme is not what you've got to do well to win football games.
"It's fundamentals and it's technique. We're going to focus on technique. We've got to get to the point where we feel comfortable and our players feel comfortable when we call a defense and from the call it prescribes a technique that they're going to be playing. Now they've got to have the mechanicals and the tools to go play that technique. And that's going to be important for us to get better."
Defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell reaffirmed Chavis' take.
"The thing I think we're going to hit on the hardest is technique," Caldwell said. "We've got to be better technique players. We might not be as good of athletes as some guys we play, but if we can play with great technique and unbelievable effort then we're going to be able to win ballgames just on that.
"If you're playing with good technique, good pad leverage, you're getting off the blocks and doing the things we've got to do up front to be good, then you're going to win ballgames just because of that."
The coaching staff has maintained a consistent, upbeat message through the winter, challenging the returning players to earn everything through winter conditioning. The coaches also brought in competition by landing the nation's No. 23 recruiting class as ranked by 247Sports.com.
"Any time you add good guys to your roster, it's going to add competition, and competing is going to bring the best out of everybody," Craddock said. "The old saying, 'The cream's going to rise to the top,' I think that's what competition does."
Six starters are back on offense, including tailback Rakeem Boyd, who will miss spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Also back are tight end Cheyenne O'Grady, receivers Deon Stewart and Mike Woods, left tackle Colton Jackson and center Ty Clary.
Quarterbacks Ty Storey and Cole Kelley, who combined to make 11 of 12 starts, both left the program. Graduate transfer Ben Hicks -- who learned the Chad Morris and Craddock schemes when the trio were together for three seasons at SMU (2015-17) -- will have a strong opportunity to win the starting quarterback job during spring ball.
Senior linebacker De'Jon Harris and defensive linemen McTelvin Agim and T.J. Smith lead the returning starters on defense, which number five or six, depending on the Razorbacks' alignment.
The returning group includes cornerback Jarques McClellion, safety Kamren Curl and nickel back D'Vone McClure.
Sports on 02/25/2019
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