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.
UA's banged-up RBs improving
Devwah Whaley, Arkansas running back, carries in a scrimmage Saturday, March, 9, 2019, during spring practice at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Running backs Devwah Whaley and Jordon Curtis joined up with Rakeem Boyd on Monday at the University of Arkansas' sixth spring football practice.
On the sideline.
To say the Razorbacks are dinged up at running back would be putting it lightly.
Junior Chase Hayden was the only healthy scholarship tailback at Monday's workout, on the first sunny and calm day of spring drills, two days after the first major scrimmage of the spring.
"Coming back to Chase Hayden, what a great opportunity," Coach Chad Morris said. "He can't get enough reps. If I'm him, I'm wanting every rep. If I'm Chase Hayden, I'm seeing that as an opportunity to get as many reps as I can get to get better."
The running back group wasn't the only unit impacted by minor injuries, but it was the most prominent. Shane Clenin, who opened spring drills at first-team right guard, is out for the rest of spring with a foot injury. He rode a stationary bike for the early segments of Monday's practice.
Boyd is out all spring following shoulder surgery, and he's starting to get in some aerobic work while wearing the Catapult outfit to track his workout data.
Whaley had a 40-plus yard run on the second snap of the scrimmage, but he and Curtis were banged up.
"Devwah Whaley was another one that was very impressive," Morris added after saying Hayden "ran the ball really well and pass protected extremely well."
Hayden Johnson, the former fullback and tight end, helped out at the running back spot Monday, along with walk-ons and a couple of receivers.
"You have to improvise," Morris said. "Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. I'm not going to feel sorry for us. ... We have to find the next man up mentality. Chase and Hayden did some good things, but we've got to keep moving forward."
The running back numbers were so low that safety Joe Foucha and receivers like Koilan Jackson, Shamar Nash and Jimmie Stoudemire ran with the ball during the Razorback drill early in the workout.
Whaley and Curtis were new to the yellow (out of action) jerseys Monday along with safety Myles Mason. Tight end Grayson Gunter was strapped into a walking boot on his right foot. Morris said he expected all of that group back Wednesday or on the Tuesday following spring break for practice No. 8.
Previously in yellow were offensive lineman Kirby Adcock (hip), cornerback Britto Tutt (knee) and walk-on defensive back Cameron Vail (foot/ankle). Linebacker Deon Edwards was slowed by an undisclosed injury but returned to the workout with a green (limited contact) jersey.
The personnel news wasn't all bad. Offensive tackle Noah Gatlin and defensive end Dorian Gerald returned from illnesses and participated in the practice.
Morris touted the importance of Saturday inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium, where a huge number of elite prospects and family members took in the 105-play scrimmage.
"It was a very impactful day for the history of our program," Morris said, "and for us to come out and scrimmage and have the energy level we had on the field Saturday with our players just focusing on getting better every day, I think it all definitely came together ... as to what we're trying to do."
Morris said he thought the offense tapered off as the scrimmage wore on and that some of the defensive stunts didn't make it home, but he said he was encouraged overall.
"It's never as good or bad as you think, but I was very pleased from a first scrimmage coming out, knowing it at least gave us a bar [to measure] where we are," he said.
"I think this is a better football team than we've been. We've just got to keep getting better. It's not so much about how much you put in, but how well you can do with what you've got."
From a defensive standpoint Saturday, Morris pointed out several players in the front seven, starting with tackle McTelvin "Sosa" Agim.
"I thought Sosa showed some exceptional effort Saturday in the D-line," he said. "So that was good to see. Bumper Pool did some really good things. Grant Morgan was disruptive. T.J. Smith, I thought had some flashes that I really liked to see.
"We missed some stunts. We called some stunts up front, some movements up front and we didn't get home at times. Those are some things we've got to continue to work."
Morris said he thought the quarterbacks showed improvement in the first major scrimmage and again Monday, led by Ben Hicks.
"I was pleased to see some of his decision making he had Saturday," Morris said. "I was very pleased with John Stephen [Jones]. I thought he had his best day Saturday he's had since he's been here. Very pleased with that. Jack Lindsey got the third reps with us and threw the ball really well.
"Obviously the wind was a little bit of a factor on Saturday, but our quarterbacks did a great job managing that. I think our quarterback play is definitely elevating a lot of things in all areas. I think they are getting great chemistry with the wide receivers."
Paula and Mackenzie Morris, the coach's wife and daughter, attended Monday's practice with Mackenzie's dog, Watson, who was named after former Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson, with his blessing.
Quarterback Connor Noland, who notched his fourth no-decision for the Arkansas baseball team Saturday, added football pants to his ensemble, but he was without thigh pads in his third practice of the spring. He'll be able to don his full pads for his next football practice.
The Razorbacks will work one more time with spring practice No. 7 on Wednesday prior to a lengthy spring break.
Sports on 03/12/2019
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