By Otis Kirk
Arkansas will being spring football drills on Thursday, March 1, with much optimism from Chad Morris and his staff entering their second year on the job.
The 2018 season obviously didn’t go like anyone wanted, but Morris and his staff have taken big measures to improve the team for 2019 and beyond.
Here’s five things to look for in the spring.
1. Quarterback Play
With Connor Noland making a huge impact with the baseball team it’s not certain how much he will be involved in spring drills. Noland is Arkansas’ No. 2 starter at this time and scheduled to be on the mound Saturday. That means Ben Hicks, John Stephen Jones, Daulton Hyatt and Jack Lindsey will probably get the majority of the reps. Hicks is a grad transfer from SMU. He played for Morris for three years at SMU including one redshirt seaseon. Jones is a redshirt freshman like Noland while Hyatt is a sophomore. Lindsey is a walk-on quarterback who is a junior. He is the holder for placements. It will be interesting to see how much of a grip Hicks can try to get on the position since it’s no secret Arkansas is trying to add former Texas A&M quarterback Nick Starkel and then true freshman KJ Jefferson enters the mix in the summer. With more competition coming in the summer, it will be interesting to see if Hicks can snag control of the position during these 15 days. Starkel is also looking hard at Florida State and possibly others.
2. What Will Offensive Line Look like?
The offensive line lost three starters from the 2018 season. Gone are both offensive guards and right tackle. It would seem that Arkansas has an abundance of tackles with senior Colton Jackson, junior college transfers Myron Cunningham and Chibueze Nwanna, redshirt freshmen Noah Gatlin and Ryan Winkel as well as sophomore Dalton Wagner. Junior center Ty Clary returns at center with expected competition from redshirt freshman Silas Robinson and sophomore Shane Clenin. Senior Austin Capps returns with experience at left guard. Kirby Adcock is another sophomore in the mix at guard. True freshman walk-on Drew Vest is also in the mix at guard. It would seem that at least one of the tackles could make the move to guard. While Jackson is a returning starter at left tackle, this reporter has always thought he would be a much better guard than tackle. It will be interesting who lines up at guard and tackle this spring.
3. Linebacker Depth
Senior De’Jon Harris is an obvious key to Arkansas’ defense under John Chavis. But with Dre Greenlaw’s eligibility gone who will step in next to Harris? Sophomore Bumper Pool is one obvious candidate. He played in 10 games, including four starts, as a true freshman in 2018. Pool finished ninth on the tackle charts with 29. He also added 2.5 tackles for loss, four pass breakups, one quarterback hurry, a recovered fumble and blocked a kick. Another player to watch is redshirt freshman Andrew Parker who was hurt much of the 2018 season and didn’t get to practice as much as he and the staff would have liked. He has obvious talent and should be in the mix. Junior Grant Morgan had 24 tackles in 2018. Junior Hayden Henry can play any multiple number of linebacker positions. He had a good 2018 finishing with 24 tackles as well. A couple other juniors, Deon Edwards and Giovanni LaFrance, are also in the mix to try to earn playing time at linebacker. Edwards played in all 12 games last fall, mostly on special teams, and finished with five tackles. In nine games, LaFrance had three tackles. Junior D’Vone McClure played in all 12 games in 2018 and started half of them. He finished with 26 tackles. It will be important for Chavis and the coaches to get some linebackers in addition to Harris established this spring. Right now, they only have one more linebacker entering in the fall though Zach Zimos is a good one.
4. Get New Players Established
Hicks, Cunningham, Nwanna and Vest are only four of the 11 new Razorbacks who enrolled at midterm. The Hogs also have Shamar Nash and Trey Knox at wide receiver, then Zach Williams, Mataio Soli and Eric Gregory on the defensive line and then Devin Bush and Greg Brooks Jr. at cornerback. They are all candidates to play in the fall so their development this spring will be extremely important. Williams and Soli offer pressure off the edge on the pass rush. Brooks and Bush both will be in the mix for not only playing time, but possibly a starting spot at cornerback. Gone is junior Ryan Pulley to the 2019 NFL Draft. Montaric Brown and Jarques McClellion, both sophomores, are back at cornerback. Kamren Curl is a returning starter at safety. Steve Caldwell and the new defensive line coach, whether it is Paul Randolph, C.J. Ah You or someone else, will have some good talent to work with. It was big when McTelvin Agim opted to return for his senior season. Dorian Gerald came on late in the season and T.J. Smith is a solid performer.
5. Avoid Key Injuries
As Morris and his staff continue to add depth with the recruiting classes, it’s important this spring they avoid injuries that could prevent someone from playing in 2019. Arkansas is still thin at several positions and thus it’s important to try to get by without a rash of injuries. Part of avoiding injuries is luck in that some years teams stay basically healthy and other years it seems the injuries just continue to mount. Morris has got to hope this season is one where the team is basically healthy as possible.