FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ quarterback race is still ongoing after one scrimmage.
Senior Ben Hicks, junior Nick Starkel and redshirt freshman John Stephen Jones appear to be making it a battle for the job. True freshman KJ Jefferson is also getting reps.
Chad Morris talked about the quarterbacks and what he things will be the determining factor in who starts the Portland State game in three weeks.
“I think consistency,” Morris said. “I think really consistency and just the ability to not just lead one group down the field, but how do you respond when you’re put in an adverse situation? Maybe it’s a different group that you’re not used to leading. Just consistency all across the board. Those guys are responding. They’re challenging each other.
“The one thing I will say, man, really the big thing that kept sticking out in my mind today is on the field, Ben’s on the field, all those quarterbacks over there, Nick, John Stephen, man, they’re rooting Ben on. Nick gets in there, throws a nice touchdown pass. Well, the first one, John Stephen threw his first one, they all came out there to him, excited. When Nick threw his, Ben’s the first out there and commending him. We’ve got a great competition, a healthy competition going in that room.”
Morris was asked about separation following the first scrimmage?
“Well no, not really,” Morris said. “I was pleased with all of them. I thought that John Stephen started it off for the most part. He led us down on about I believe a seven or eight play drive with a touchdown pass. From there it just kind of caught fire with some guys making plays. Again, it was a situational scrimmage.
“There were times where we’d go eight plays. It might be second down but we finished our eight plays and we’d get them off the field. So it was more of how you reacted in your first series, as far as your first three plays and could you create a first down.”
Morris then talked about Hicks, Starkel and Jefferson.
“I thought Ben started off and did some good things, made some really good things,” Morris said. “Then Nick came in and did some good things as well. I was pleased with him.
“We missed a deep ball down the sidelines I wish we could have back. Miscommunication on a route. But Nick had a great ball and it was in the spot where it needed to be. KJ Jefferson continues to impress us. He’s physical and he’s big and really good in his decision making. And he showed that today. I was pleased with where all four of them are right now. We’ve got a great competition going.”
No matter who the quarterback is the offense is far ahead of where it was last year at this time as far as install.
“I think we’re well ahead of that,” Morris said of being at 30 percent last year. “Well over half our offense is in right now. Which you would hope. We challenged our guys this summer in their player-led work to continue to grow. We don’t want to come back and continue to teach the base offense. We’ve still got to teach it, but we want to grow off of it, and we’ve been able to do that.
“So there are some things we’ve been able to do. It’s a credit to the returning group that’s in that room at quarterback. I would say we’re somewhere around, if I had to put a percentage on it, 65, 70 percent. I’d say we’re well on schedule.”
Morris also was asked if there was any limitations on the offense or defense as far as playcalling Saturday?
“As far as limitations defensively, no,” Morris said. “No limitations. Nor was it offensively, either. We wanted to see and we wanted to get after each other.”
Joe Craddock, the offensive coordinator, echoed Morris’ thoughts on what will eventually separate the quarterbacks.
“Just consistency,” Craddock said. “You know, like I said, we’re looking for..Whoever I put you in there with, if I put you in there with the 3’s Ben or Nick, go put it in the endzone. That’s what we’re wanting to see. Who can move the ball? Who can be the most consistent taking care of the football? Last year, we were around 129 or 130 in turnovers lost. I think we’ve done a much better job at this point in fall camp. So, we’ve just got to continue to take care of the ball and we’re on the right track of doing that the first week.”
Dalton Wagner is currently working at first-team right tackle. He was asked about Jones’ performance at quarterback as well as the others on Saturday.
“John Stephen did a really good job today,” Wagner said. “All of the quarterbacks today did an excellent job. All worked really hard today and they were all hitting their targets. There was really good leadership out of the quarterbacks today.
“They have been doing an excellent job. Both Starkel, Hicks, JSJ, they all lead the pack and even KJ. They all do a great job in just leading the offense. They don’t let one play get to them. They flush it and just really take over the offense when they are in there.”
Sophomore wide receiver Mike Woods also chimed in on the quarterbacks.
“I thought they did very good today,” Woods said. “KJ Jefferson … John Stephen had a real good scrimmage today, and Nick and Ben of course did great.”
Is Jones being slept on a little considering it’s generally just assumed the quarterback will be Hicks or Starkel?
“For sure,” Woods said. “He’s a baller. Ever since high school he’s been a baller. You put him in the game he’s going to make plays. I thought he did really good.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields on Monday at 10:05 a.m. They open the season on Saturday, Aug. 31, at 3 p.m. against Portland State in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.