Armed with options: Hogs replenish QB room used to turbulence

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Saturday, February 8, 2020
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson throws a pass during a game against LSU on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson throws a pass during a game against LSU on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas quarterback room, a pass-through zone with continual churn in two seasons under coach Chad Morris, got a huge boost during the recruiting period.

Coach Sam Pittman and the Razorbacks landed graduate transfer Feleipe Franks, one of the standout portal entries of the winter, as well as four-star quarterback Malik Hornsby of Missouri City, Texas.

That duo will join the three returning scholarship quarterbacks -- redshirt sophomore John Stephen Jones, redshirt freshman KJ Jefferson and senior Jack Lindsey -- who started the final three games of Arkansas' 2-10 season in that order.

The Razorbacks have slogged through an unstable quarterback situation the past two years, with eight different starters in the past 21 games and a flurry of departures.

Scholarship quarterbacks Ty Storey, Cole Kelley, Daulton Hyatt and Nick Starkel all left the program with eligibility remaining since the end of the 2018 season. Connor Noland, who started a 23-0 victory over Tulsa in 2018, stepped away from football to compete solely for Coach Dave Van Horn's baseball team.

The Razorbacks are expected to enter spring practice next month with three healthy signal callers. Jefferson continues to recover from a shoulder injury he suffered late in the season.

Pre-existing relationships helped restock the room to five scholarship quarterbacks.

New offensive line coach Brad Davis was in the same position at Florida in 2017 when Franks was a redshirt freshman who started eight games for the Gators and passed for 1,438 yards, 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.

New offensive coordinator Kendal Briles has recruited Hornsby for several years.

"I've known him since his freshman year, and offered him in recruiting when I was at Houston," said Briles, referencing his year as offensive coordinator with the Cougars in 2018. "He's a kid I've followed and watched. I talked to him while we were at Florida State last year, and just always had a relationship with him. I thought he was a really good kid and a good player.

"And so whenever I took the job here and it got announced publicly, he was one of the first guys I called. Fortunately he didn't sign in that early period and got a chance to come up here on campus."

Hornsby cited his relationship with Briles as a key reason for signing with the Razorbacks during an appearance on ESPNU on Wednesday. He also indicated he has a strong interest in winning the starting job against four quarterbacks with starting experience, including the veteran Franks.

"I'm not scared of competition," Hornsby said. "I'm going to come in and compete no matter where I go."

Briles has featured running quarterbacks at several of his stops, notably D'Eriq King at Houston in recent years, and players such as Robert Griffin III during his long stint at Baylor.

Hornsby's status as a highly regarded dual-threat quarterback should make him a prime fit.

"I don't want to say that you have to have a quarterback like that for the system to work, but it definitely gives you more options," Briles said. "Malik has run a similar system in high school.

"It's a system I think he can relate to easily. And that's one of the things that helped us with him. He's a very talented guy. I could call a bad play, and he can make it right. Guys like that are fun to coach. Excited to get him up here in June and go to work."

Franks, a 6-6, 235-pounder, already has enrolled and is preparing to go through spring drills.

"Great kid, great person," Briles said of Franks. "Exactly what you want from the measurables. Big guy. Done it at a high level. You can buy a lot of things, but you can't buy experience. He's lived it. He's a guy who's done it. So I look forward to working with him."

Briles said he began talking immediately to Franks, who was already in the transfer portal, when Pittman hired him on.

"As soon as that happened, that was my No. 1 guy to go after to try and build that relationship," Briles said.

Davis said he understands the offensive front, which ranked 97th and 31st nationally in sacks allowed the past two seasons, has to deliver to give the quarterbacks and the run game a chance to thrive.

"It's just the nature of the deal, man," Davis said. "The reality of it is it's a great responsibility. Nothing good happens without the offensive line going out and executing at a high level.

"The expectation level is not something that I'm unfamiliar with. The criticism is not something I'm unfamiliar with. I understand that if we don't play well we're going to hear about it. You know what I mean? I fully anticipate it. But I also came here to kick ass, so I'm not afraid and running from anybody."

Sports on 02/08/2020

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