FAYETTEVILLE — Apparently Friday night’s “Christmas morning” dawned as another Christmas morning Saturday morning for Arkansas coach Chad Morris surveying his second practice of the Razorbacks’ preseason.
Morris after Friday night’s opener of preseason drills noted the workout’s enthusiasm and said, “Everybody loves Christmas morning, and we’ve got to treat every day like it’s Christmas morning. That’s what we’re going to do.”
The Razorbacks, with a closed practice Saturday, worked again in the second NCAA mandated noncontact helmets and shorts practice before pads are donned this week, culminating in next Saturday’s scrimmage.
Shoulder pads added to the helmets is Monday’s next step after a Sunday off day other than meetings.
Day Two, Morris said Saturday afternoon addressing the Razorbacks’ annual Media Day, was not old hat.
“These guys were ready to practice this morning,” Morris said. “It was a quick turn, so it was going to be kind of a test for them coming off a long practice yesterday and a quick turn this morning. They had meetings early this morning, started at 8 o'clock. But those guys showed up with a lot of energy, a lot of excitement. I thought we had a really good day. I thought we finished better today than we did yesterday. Not that yesterday was bad.”
His academic and transfer paper work apparently cleared, junior college transfer defensive end Dorian Gerald practiced Saturday for the first time as a Razorback.
“I was glad we had Dorian out there,” Morris said. “It was good to see him getting in the flow of things. He had a lot on him today, but I thought he moved around well.”
Morris was asked about filling the two major holes created by the injury absences of senior nickel back Kevin Richardson of Jacksonville, removed from the active 110-man roster because of a broken foot likely to sideline him until possibly midseason, and junior left offensive tackle Colton Jackson of Conway.
Jackson remains listed on the roster so he can observe the new offense that Morris installs but also likely is out until at least midseason having undergone back surgery two weeks ago.
Redshirt freshman Dalton Wagner of Spring Grove, Illinois, 6-foot-9, 300 pounds has worked first-team left tackle while at the sometimes Sam linebacker sometimes nickel back position sophomore Hayden Henry has played Sam ‘backer while Jacksonville High grad and former Cleveland Indians baseball signee D’Vone McClure and sophomore Derrick Munson have played nickel.
While loathe to tout true freshmen too early, none are media available until they’ve played in a game, Morris said, the coach did mention true freshman offensive tackle Noah Gatlin of Jonesboro and true freshman nickel back Joe Foucha of New Orleans.
“Dalton Wagner again has totally transformed his body,” Morris said. “He looks the part.”
A young kid that coach (offensive line coach Dustin) Fry is really excited about the potential of this young man. Another young man who is doing good things too is Noah Gatlin. This is a freshman that is excited to be out there. He’s really working hard. He got some reps in there today with both our ones and our twos. And, you’ll see Silas Robinson (a true freshman from Yoakum, Texas) working a little bit of center. These are two young guys we’re excited about who are going to provide some depth for us.”
As for nickel/Sam, Morris said, “Obviously, with K-Rich being out right now, we've seen Hayden get in there. Hayden has done a good job with it. He's also trying to get some Will backer. D'Vone McClure is moving around, running well, tracking to the ball. Derrick (Munson) is doing some good things. Unfortunately, last spring he was unable to play in the spring game because he had an ankle injury. He had a good spring up to that point. He's picked up where he's left off.”
Then, he threw Foucha’s helmet in the ring.
“The guy that's really, really impressive right now is Joe Foucha,” Morris said. “This young man looks the part. The moment isn't too big for him right now.”
Senior starting weakside Will linebacker Dre Greenlaw touted McClure’s wisdom and experience as nickel and said Henry, a younger brother to former Razorbacks Mackey Award winning All-American tight end Hunter Henry, is the man when a true outside ‘backer is required.
“I like Hayden,” Greenlaw said. “He’s a missile. He’s a guy that from the snap of the ball to the end, he’s going to go and track the ball down.”
Receiver Jared Cornelius, shelved three games into the 2017 final season of former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, with the torn Achilles from which Cornelius successfully applied for a fifth-year senior hardship season in 2018, now has two full speed practices behind him which he wasn’t allowed last spring, still healing.
“I feel like it’s been forever since I’ve been full speed 100 percent through a full practice,” Cornelius said. “I can't put into words how excited I am. Nine months ago, I thought I had played my last game as a Razorback, but I got another chance to come along with this staff and this team again. It's amazing. I can't tell you how excited I am for the season.”
Especially in this Spread offense he presumes will maximize his talents with his physique tapered to the quick.
“I’m down 15, from 218 down to 203,” Cornelius, 5-11, said. “I feel great. I’m trying to lose about four or five more for the season.”