By Otis Kirk
Arkansas will open spring drills on Friday and Chad Morris is looking to take advantage of these 15 opportunities to get better.
The Hogs are obviously coming off a 2-10 season that saw them go winless in the SEC, but Morris and his staff are working hard to turn the program back in the right direction this season.
Here’s five keys to having a successful spring at Arkansas.
1. Avoid Key Injuries
Injuries are part of the game, but the Hogs need to get through the spring without losing any of its impact players for the 2019 season. Injuries really hampered Bret Bielema’s last team in 2017 and then cost Morris and the Hogs a very likely win over Ole Miss in Little Rock. If Ty Storey, Dewvah Whaley and Rakeem Boyd don’t get injured in Ole Miss game the Hogs likely would have rolled to a win. While players will get injured from time to time, the Hogs just have to hope they can avoid the ones that cost an extended absence. Part of avoiding injuries, in my opinion, is luck and Arkansas is due some of that.
2. Develop Two-Deep
There’s some areas where Arkansas is deeper than other places, but it’s important to develop as much of the two-deep chart this spring as possible. There will be more players coming in the summer from the Class of 2019. Don’t be surprised if the Hogs add a couple more names to Class of 2019 in upcoming weeks from the graduate transfer ranks. Former Texas A&M quarterback Nick Starkel, 6-3, 218, and former Troy linebacker Tron Folsom, 6-2, 209, are key targets for Arkansas. Starkel will be at Arkansas this weekend for an official visit. Folsom had 185 tackles in three seasons for Troy. While those two, if the Hogs can land them, will make an impact this summer and in preseason, but Arkansas has 15 practices to try and develop as much depth as possible now. De’Jon Harris is a leader at linebacker, but Bumper Pool and others need to be ready to step in. The secondary will return one starter who started the 2018 season opener, safety Kameron Curl. The defensive line has a chance to be good. Quarterback is always a key position on offense and the running back room is thin with Rakeem Boyd injured. Wide receiver is going to be interesting this spring. Tight end has a chance to be a solid unit and the offensive line has numbers for Dustin Fry to have some depth with even more help on the way there this summer. Arkansas doesn’t have to have an exact two-deep chart coming out of spring, but a big step in that direction would help.
3. Develop Accountability
Morris established an area where everyone had to earn back their logo during the offseason program. Once any team gets into a string of losing games, it is hard to break that trend. The best way to do it is starting with accountability which helps develop leadership. Morris saw some of that recently.
“To see guys like Kam Curl and Scoota, tweeting out, ‘Hey, make sure everybody comes to breakfast, because we get points, and those points will earn us our gear back,’” Morris said. “So again, the accountability that encompasses with the earn everything mentality.”
Obviously that is only one step in getting better, but if the players are holding each other accountable that is a huge step in the right direction.
4. Playmakers at Wide Receiver
Arkansas will add Warren’s Treylon Burks, Jefferson (Texas) High’s TQ Jackson and Pulaski Academy’s John David White this summer at wide receiver. They need those three along with the ones in spring to develop into playmakers. Arkansas needs five, six or seven players to step forward there this spring, summer and then in fall. Morris likes what he has seen so far.
“Our skill guys, especially at wide receiver, another area that we brought in obviously Shamar (Nash) and Trey Knox,” Morris said. “Those guys have brought a lot of energy and the’ve brought a lot of competition to our wide receiver room. What I have seen is this: I have seen De’Vion Warren and Deon Stewart and Mike Woods, Jordan Jones, Koilan Jackson, I’ve seen those guys have to elevate their game even more.
“So there’s a sense of urgency so to speak in that wide receiver room, which is good to see. All of them rose their game and that’s what you want. That’s why you go out and recruit and I think you’ve seen the recruits we’ve brought in this building and continue to bring in this building. It isn’t going to stop. We’re going to continue to recruit at a high level and it’s not to threaten anybody. It’s to know that this is what it’s going to take to get this program right. Because you create competition and you raise someone else’s game, is what you’re after.”
5. Be Better on April 6 Than March 1
This sounds like coach speak, but the truth is no one stays the same. You either get better or worse each day and it’s important the Hogs get better up and down the roster. If they do that then build on it in summer and preseason, the 2019 season will shape up much better.