FAYETTEVILLE — Grant Morgan is set for his sixth season at Arkansas and he liked what the first day of spring football brought the team.
Morgan talked with the media following Tuesday’s first spring drill and was asked about how well it appeared to be going so early in t he spring?
“Leadership,” Morgan said. “That’s really, exactly my answer for that. Players are taking really good leadership offense and defense and the coaches are just telling us what to do and we are rolling with it. A lot of guys coming back are really taking a step forward. We know what to expect. We know where to go because we’ve been through it before. This isn’t our first time doing it. It’s our first spring ball but it’s not the first time doing it with these coaches. It’s really shown for everybody. Not just the old guys but the young guys from back in the fall they’ve been really good. It’s just straight up leadership. Players want leaders.”
How did the first practice go otherwise?
“Today was awesome,” Morgan said. “I don’t think we could have started any better. Today we had a really good practice. We went really fast. We did a lot of good things. He called us up on inside afterwards and he was just congratulating us on how great we did and saying ‘You all really had the best inside period I’ve ever seen without pads.’
“So we did good. A lot of energy. We made mistakes but everybody was full speed, running around. You couldn’t ask for anything better than that. We really took today on with work.”
Morgan suffered a knee injury against Missouri, but was healthy enough to play in the bowl game before it was canceled.
“It’s feeling good,” Morgan said. “No brace. Hopefully no brace ever again, knock on wood. It’s going good, I’m running good and it’s feeling good. Trainers did really good to me, Coach has been taking care of me, the training staff did really well, so thanks to all of them.”
Gone is Rion Rhoades as coach of the linebackers and enter Michael Scherer.
“He’s definitely the closest to my age that I’ve had so far,” Morgan said. “This has been a different situation where we didn’t expect this because usually it’s with a coaching change or defensive coordinator change or something like that. When this came about we really enjoy Coach Scherer. The way he coaches us is just so intense and we love it. He’s making everyone in the room better. He has so much knowledge in this defense and the scheme. The way he coaches us is on a different level because he’s been here recently. He knows what it takes to get to the next league. The way he does things is at a top professional level. Like, he treats us the same every single day. We know what we’re going to get from him because he expects what he’s going to get from us every single day.
“And for him being so young, if you listen to him speak and didn’t see a picture of him you would not know he was young at all. The way he talks about football, his mindset on football, he’s an old-time football guy and he wants us to hit somebody and hit them hard, which is the way it should be played. But he’s got new tricks in his bag the way he’s been, on the defensive side, able to develop over time because offenses have. I’m 23 years old, he’s high-20s, so I guess he could be my older brother. He’s about Drew’s age or a little older, so it’s funny, but we relate really well and he’s a great coach and a great friend because that’s how we’ve been able to connect and grow with each other.”
He was around the team last season and each player seems to feel they get the same from him each day. Is that true?
“Yeah, and that’s exactly what he is,” Morgan said. “He’s fair. He treats every single person the same. He’s going to rip me and Bumper the way he rips everybody else there. He is a type of guy who he doesn’t care what day it is, he doesn’t care if it’s sunny outside, he doesn’t care if it’s pouring rain. He’s going to be the same guy every single day. He’s going to work us. He’s going to demand high from us because he knows where we want to be. Everybody in that room wants to play at the next level, and every one of us in that room wants to win every game this year, and he knows what it takes to get there. And he’s going to treat us that way to get there. And we respect the crap out of him for that because he knows we want to be coached. We don’t want to be pushed to the side and not be told for our mistakes. He’s done really well with that, and exactly what he said. He’s fair, and that means a lot.”
The team has two freshmen linebackers who came in at midterm in Chris Paul and Marco Avant. How are they progressing?
“They’re coming along really good,” Morgan said. “At first, they were really just as you would expect. They were wide-eyed. Didn’t really know what to do. They were just kind of following. Now, you can kind of see like ‘OK, this is why we recruited them. This is why they’re doing good.’ They’re taking a step forward in every single aspect. As freshmen, they don’t really know what to expect. We’re out here doing ‘Chaos Friday’s’ at six in the morning. They’re just seeing us. They’re dying. Seeing this first spring ball practice, they’ve done really well just from little walkthroughs with me on Saturday mornings. They’ve done things that I didn’t expect they were going to do.
“So, today they’re learning the defense. Coach Scherer has them talk every single day on certain plays and figuring out exactly what we’re doing on defense. They have to talk in front of the room and just tell us exactly what’s going on at each position. So, they’re taking a really big step. They’re learning a lot. Pooh’s doing really well. He’s changed his body already from the first time he got here eight weeks ago. He’s doing good. He’s taking a bigger step. He’s asking questions. That’s one thing these freshmen are doing really well. Even Kelin Burrle and JT Towers are taking a step. They’re asking a lot of questions. That’s what they need to do. They need to be in me, Bump (Bumper Pool) and Hayden’s (Henry) ears just asking us questions. Couldn’t ask more from them.”
Outside of just the freshmen, how is the linebacker room coming around?
“The dynamic is just it’s something I haven’t been a part of,” Morgan said. “Last year… It’s the same guys, but it’s… We understand a lot more. We feed off each other. We talk more smack to each other than probably any other position group in our facility. So, we’re always competing with each other. If you were to ask all the strength coaches which group competes against each other, talks more smack to each other, they’d say linebacker just because we’re so competitive with each other.
“We’re all best friends. We all talk a lot, make jokes in the room. It’s just something… It’s fun to come here. It’s fun to literally come here and sit in the linebacker room and be with each other. It starts with Scherer, it starts with all of us and the way we’ve bled and the way we’ve shown the freshmen what it’s like to be able to work and be able to lead. The dynamic’s fun. It’s literally, we go to work, but we have fun doing it. And I think I’ve said that in probably every year’s interviews. I’ve always said I love being here, I love having fun and I love going to work.”
One emphasis for the entire defense this season is put more pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. Sam Pittman is wanting a much better pass rush.
“Yes, definitely,” Morgan said. “As a defense we have to put pressure on the quarterback It doesn’t matter if we’re rushing three or one. We have to get somebody there and get pressure on him and make him move around. That can be a question you ask the offense about. You can ask Trelon (Smith), too when he comes up. He had to pick us up today in pass blocking. He’ll probably say the exact same thing that we had emphasis on getting to the quarterback. Thats how we play as a defense. Last year we didn’t do it good enough so we have an emphasis on it now. We have to have guys step up and play better than last year. They know that and they are going to do it.”
Arkansas had some older players enroll at midterm as well. Cornerback Trent Gordon came from Penn State, offensive tackle Ty’kieast Crawford from Charlotte and defensive lineman Jalen Williams from Jones (Miss) College.
“I think they all can help us,” Morgan said. “It’s the first day of spring ball so it’s hard to tell because we didn’t have pads on like who’s offensive line, who’s defensive line and who’s going to help us. Trent Gordon made some really good plays today. I know everybody’s name. I’m still learning numbers though because everybody is different. I was talking to Bump and Trent made a really good play on the goalline in two-minute, and I was just like ‘That’s that Penn State kid right?’ Then we were like ‘OK, 18. Trent Gordon.’ So, we were screaming for him. He’s doing really well. He can help us out. Our DB room is stacked. I’m telling you. They’re stacked. D-line, Jalen is doing good. Ty’kieast, I’ll tell you right now, he’s got a body that looks like an SEC body. We played against people that look like him. He’s going to get better with Davis. One thing about Ty’kieast, he wanted to be on aux cord today and he put on some country music. So, he got some brownie points with all of us. He did good, and they’re going to help us.”
Arkansas will return to the practice field on Thursday.