FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas has completed its first scrimmage of the preseason and it was a purposefully long one in hot weather.
Following the scrimmage, Chad Morris and the two coordinators, Joe Craddock and Chad Morris, met with the media as did four players. Morris seemed generally pleased with how it went.
“First scrimmage, I thought it was by design, we wanted to go long,” Morris said. “We went about 170-175 play scrimmage today. Matter of fact, the hotter it got the longer we wanted it to go. I wanted to see what these guys could do at the end.
“We definitely, again, continued to show great improvement all the way across the board. I’m pleased with where we are. Obviously next Saturday I expect it to be better than it was this Saturday. But these guys came out there and really, really everybody got some quality reps in there.”
Morris broke down each of the scoring plays and the two turnovers from the scrimmage.
“Buster Brown had an interception,” Morris said. “Trey Knox had a touchdown from John Stephen Jones. Chase Harrell had a touchdown from Ben Hicks. Treylon Smith had a touchdown run. Mike Woods had a touchdown pass from Nick Starkel. Zach Williams had a fumble recovery. Devwah Whaley had a touchdown run. Jordan Jones had a touchdown pass from Ben Hicks and Shamar Nash had a touchdown pass from Nick Starkel. And Chase Hayden had a touchdown run. That kind of sums that up.”
As always, the quarterback battle is the one many fans are interested in. Morris provided a breakdown of how the first-team quarterback reps were broken down.
“So we started off, we went our red, which is our one group, and then we would go white, which is our two group,” Morris said. “Then we came back with our reds with our ones. So Ben started us out with the reds, John Stephen came in with the next group and Nick came back in with the reds.”
The defense has a goal of creating three turnovers each practice or game. They only got two on Saturday. Morris still had some players he felt showed out.
“I thought some guys that stood out – when Sosa’s (Agim) in there he’s extremely disruptive,” Morris said. “We limited him today, as well as we limited Scoota (Harris). We know what these guys can do. When they were in there they were both very disruptive and active. Then they got an opportunity to start coaching some of those young guys on the sidelines. That was good to see.
“Jarques McClellion, I thought Jarques continues to get better. He made some great play on the ball today. Buster’s the same way. Our safeties are being very active. Again, there’s a lot of things happening. Dorian Gerald showed some really good things today. I thought Bumper Pool made several really good plays out on the edge where he had to have a great angle. So I thought there were some really good things from a defensive standpoint. I was very pleased.”
John Chavis talked about the defense not reaching it’s goal of three turnovers during the scrimmage.
“No we didn’t,” Chavis said. “If I’m not mistaken I think we only had two. That’s not good enough. We put a lot of emphasis on it. We spend a lot of time working on technique. We don’t expect turnovers to just happen. We expect to force them. Occasionally you’re gonna get a gift, but there’s so much you have to work on. There’s a technique in getting the ball out and we work on that. But the biggest thing is when it’s really working well is when our players really believe in it. Sometimes when you are out there in your 60th or 70th play it’s a little tougher to remember those techniques. You always go back to your training.
“We feel it’s important particularly where football is at today. In terms of a lot of fast paced offense. There’s a few things we’re gonna hang our hat on. There’s a lot of things can certainly can affect the game for us defensively to be able to affect the game. The easiest and best way is turnovers. If we can average three turnovers a ballgame we’ll be the No. ball team in the nation no question about that. We set that goal here for that reason. We didn’t reach that today. We have been good thus far in preseason. Maybe, not maybe, I’m sure the offense has been working on protecting the ball and keeping the ball. They did a great job of that today. We had our opportunities we just didn’t capitalize on it.”
While it seems like the offense is turning the ball over a lot in preseason drills, Craddock had an interesting stat concerning that.
“The offense comes to work everyday,” Craddock said. “I love those guys, I tell them every practice I love them. You really want to talk about the belt and that kind of stuff. It’s really about the fact that there are a lot of plays being played. There are a lot of statistics that are kind of stacked against us. I love that. I have no problem with that because all that matters is when we got Portland State out there, the first game we gotta be ready to go. That’s all that matters to me. So, we’ve been working extremely hard.
“I counted before today, we’ve run a 1034 snaps of things that we’re counting turnovers and doing all those things and we’ve had 17. That puts us at one out of every 61 plays and 1.6 percent. We’re never going to except turnovers in this program. Never. But, when we get to that and we were 129 last year, you look at that and it puts us in the top 30. So, if we can do that and continue to keep harping on that, we’re going to pretty good. I’ll say it again, turnovers are never going to be accepted in this program. We’ve got to continue to work on that and we will over the next couple of weeks until we get ready for fall camp.”
Chavis also took notice of the leadership being provided by Agim and Harris when they are pulled from the scrimmage.
“Let me put it in these terms, right now those two are developing into some of the best leaders I’ve been around,” Chavis said. “You give them those opportunities to do that and to be a leader. They are not afraid to talk to their teammates and not afraid to do those things. It has always been my philosophy. I’ve talked about it, I don’t know if I’ve talked about it in here, but I’ve talked about it in our meetings we want our seniors and we want older guys to be able to teach the young guys. When they teach it and they understand what’s going on even better. When they teach it and they understand even better. When you can teach it you’ve got a better understanding.
“They’re still growing and now they know some of the why’s. Why we do it this way. This is why we teach this. They get a better feel for it and it makes your team better. When you’ve got guys that can teach at each position that’s when….Coach Morris mentioned this awhile day maybe around Media Day his words were, ‘we’re not trying to build a team, we’re trying to build a program.’ When you are building a program that’s the way to do it. You’ve got older guys that can teach and get those younger guys ready to play and be the leaders on your football team.”
A freshman who has drawn praise is wide receiver Treylon Burks. Craddock was asked what is Burks’ ceiling?
“He don’t have one,” Craddock said. “He don’t have a ceiling. That kid can be as good as he wants to be, and the thing that you love about him, I was talking with Coach Morris the other day, he has that Deshaun Watson mindset, that Deshaun Watson focus. He comes out to work every day.
“Does he miss stuff up? Yeah, he’s a freshman, but man you love having that kid around. He works his butt off, wants to be great, studies it hard, watches extra film. Been really, really proud of him. Been really proud of TQ. TQ is also a guy that has tremendous speed. We know that our offense would be a little bit of a learning curve for him coming from high school, and he’s got to continue to learn, continue to study. But again, I think we hit on all those freshmen. All of our freshmen are going to be good players in due time.”
A big positive for Morris and the Hogs on Saturday was apparently not any new injuries.
“Nothing today,” Morris said. “(Freshman running back) A’Montae Spivey came off, he had some asthma. Hard time catching his breath. Outside of that, that was it. We expect to get a lot of guys coming back next week.”
Arkansas opens the season on Saturday, Aug. 31, against Portland State at 3 p.m. in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.