Razorbacks roundtable: Assessing Arkansas' quarterbacks

By: Scottie Bordelon , Seth Campbell , Clay Henry , Bob Holt , Matt Jones , Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, August 13, 2020
Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks is shown during a workout at the Walker Pavilion in Fayetteville.
Photo by Brooks Cockrell, Arkansas Athletics
Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks is shown during a workout at the Walker Pavilion in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Four questions for five writers ahead of the start of Arkansas' preseason practices on Aug. 17.

What is the No. 1 trait or attribute Feleipe Franks brings to Arkansas’ quarterbacks room?

Tom Murphy: I would say the top characteristic is experience. No one on the Arkansas roster has come close to starting a full season at quarterback in the SEC as Franks did as a sophomore at Florida in 2018. Not only did he put up solid numbers as a first-year starter, he led the Gators to huge wins over Tennessee, LSU, Florida State and Michigan (among others) and a top-10 final ranking.

Clay Henry: There is no substitute for SEC experience at quarterback. Right behind that is arm strength. That is a huge combination. I'd compare what he brings a little bit to that of Ryan Mallett. No, Mallett didn't have SEC experience, but he played as a true freshman in the Big Ten. But what Mallett did get that Franks does not get is a year to learn a new system as a redshirt under Bobby Petrino before he had to play in the SEC.

Franks has the big-time arm that coordinators covet. You must have it to beat the elite speed in the secondary that abounds in the SEC.

Bob Holt: The No. 1 thing Franks brings is his SEC experience. He’s started a lot of games in the SEC, so he knows what to expect. He’s also had success as Florida’s quarterback, which is always helpful, especially for a team that is 1-23 in SEC games since 2017. Obviously, the Florida teams Franks played on had more talent than Arkansas, but his experience should be a big plus nonetheless for the Razorbacks at a position which has been a revolving door the last two seasons.

Scottie Bordelon: I think there are a few things Franks brings to the table that have been missing in Arkansas’ quarterback room for a while. I see poise and confidence first and foremost. He seems sure of himself and his ability, but not to an extreme. Players will gravitate to him. Talking with him this summer, he sounds like a seasoned vet, which he kind of is. Franks has played in some big games at Florida. He doesn’t just have experience, he has quality experience at the SEC level.

Seth Campbell: I think the obvious answer is his experience. There are seven quarterbacks on the Razorbacks' roster and he’s the only one who has started more than one SEC game.

Matt Jones: He knows how to win. He won considerably more SEC games in 2018 than any of the Razorbacks' seniors have in their career. That know-how is important to a program in the shape Arkansas finds itself.

How much, if at all, is Franks’ leg injury last season a concern for you entering 2020?

Tom Murphy: Really not much. He said on his most recent Zoom call with reporters, which has been a while now, that he was virtually back to full go. Oh my gosh, what will a true running quarterback look like for the Razorbacks?

Clay Henry: The injury that Franks sustained at Florida was severe. There is no way to minimize what he's trying to fight through. By all accounts, he's recovered. If there is a positive in the delay to Sept. 26, it's a few extra weeks for Franks to continue to build both strength and confidence. He's now going to have one full year since the injury.

Bob Holt: Considering all the time he’s had to recover I don’t think it should be a major concern. Easy for me to say because I’m not the one who was hurt, but Sam Pittman said several weeks ago that if spring practices had been held, Franks could have participated. So I think he definitely should be ready to go full speed by late September. By then it will have been more than a full calendar year since he was injured against Kentucky.

Scottie Bordelon: It’s easy for me to say, but I’m not too worried about it. I don’t think he is either. He told us back in April that he had been taking things slow. Franks has had a lot of time to recover and he feels like he’s 100 percent, or close to it. I think we’ll see a healthy, confident quarterback when the team hits the field again.

Seth Campbell: I would describe Franks as a willing runner. He’s not a dual-threat quarterback, but he can keep defenses honest with his legs. If his injury keeps him from being a willing runner then I think that’s cause for concern, but I don’t think he would have transferred to Arkansas if it was a problem. That being said, if he does go down with an injury the quarterback position could turn into another carousel.

Matt Jones: The more pressing question is whether it's a concern for him. I'm sure he'll think about it the first time he's back in a game, but otherwise I think he's moved on.

I know it is difficult to say given the Razorbacks did not have spring practices, but what do you foresee for KJ Jefferson this fall?

Tom Murphy: I would think he could comfortably slot in at the No. 2 position or at least a co-No. 2. If this coaching staff can afford it, they might be wise to slide in a Jefferson series here and there — especially if the season starts as scheduled — to help prepare a backup for the months and years to come. That did not seem to be a priority in the Bielema years.

Clay Henry: The fact that none of the quarterbacks got a spring practice to learn the new system and see live reps against a defense does make it tough to answer that question.

Jefferson is an amazing talent. Those who saw him in practice last year called him a generational talent. He seems to have the skills that fit in a Kendal Briles system. He could surprise this season. What I recall from games is an arm that sometimes was spectacular but also was inconsistent. It would have been huge if Briles had some time to see and fix any mechanics that caused the inconsistent play.

I would never discount Jefferson's chances to make a splash this season. A dual-threat quarterback is the greatest equalizer in college football and it's hard to imagine Franks doing the kind of things that Jefferson can in the run game.

Bob Holt: I expect Jefferson to be the backup to Franks. Depending on how many close games the Razorbacks play, Jefferson should be able to get experience off the bench. If Franks struggles, Jefferson should get a chance for more playing time to build for the future.

But ideally, for Arkansas, Franks will play well and Jefferson will get some work off the bench and stay healthy. There also may be some special packages for Jefferson to take advantage of his skill set as a runner especially.

Scottie Bordelon: I’m not sure. Without having taken in drills earlier in the year, I’m going to guess that offensive coordinator Kendal Briles will create some packages that suit Jefferson’s strengths and he’ll see the field on occasion. He definitely flashed a few times last season, most notably against Mississippi State, but we also saw he has a lot of room to grow.

Seth Campbell: If all goes according to plan, this would be a great year for KJ Jefferson to learn from an experienced quarterback, learn Kendal Briles’ offense and be utilized in some wildcat/option formations. Jefferson showed flashes of potential last fall, so if Briles can put him into a position where he can show those flashes more often I think that role would fit him perfect this year.

Matt Jones: If there is a season, I think he'll play before November, which is when he first played last year. I could foresee Kendal Briles installing some packages for him to show off his running ability.

Can you envision a scenario in which true freshman Malik Hornsby challenges for the backup job?

Tom Murphy: Yes, but it’s a scenario that would mean at least one, maybe two injuries. There’s a lot of ‘ifs’ surrounding this season, no?

Clay Henry: Yes, being the backup can happen in the blink of an eye. An ankle sprain (and that's not to say it will happen to Franks) is all it will take. But it's also clear that Briles has coveted a chance to work with Hornsby for a long time. He seems to be a fit in this system.

Still, I would think Hornsby would not be the backup and get a redshirt year to learn. There are no cupcakes on the schedule to get him mop-up duty against overmatched defenses. Would you want to throw him onto the field against a top SEC defense to get him snaps? That's probably not the best option.

Bob Holt: It’s not out of the question. He brings good talent to the table. But for his sake, you hope he’s not thrown into the fire too early. It would be good if he can get some limited snaps and preserve his redshirt.

Scottie Bordelon: I certainly think he can, but I see KJ Jefferson entering the season as the backup to Feleipe Franks. There’s no doubt Hornsby is a terrific talent. I just think it will take him some time to firmly grasp the offense, settle in and get his feet underneath him. I’m excited by his potential, for sure.

Seth Campbell: Hornsby would not have chosen Arkansas if he didn’t think he could challenge for the backup job, but I don’t foresee him being the backup this year. If he is the backup then more than likely someone in the quarterbacks room has been injured.

Matt Jones: With the unknowns surrounding covid-19, I think anything and everything is in play from a depth perspective.

Discussion

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