FAYETTEVILLE — Media at every college football media day inquire coaches about their quarterbacks.
Certainly that proved no exception for the Arkansas Razorbacks at their Wednesday morning portion of the SEC Media Days that began Monday and conclude Thursday in Hoover, Alabama.
But even as second-year Arkansas coach Chad Morris addressed the importance of graduate transfer quarterbacks, Ben Hicks, Morris’ 2016 and 2017 starting quarterback at SMU transferred to the UA last January with this 2019 eligibility remaining, and Nick Starkel, transferred this summer from Texas A&M with two seasons of Razorbacks eligibility, Morris spoke first of recruiting depth in the offensive and defense lines as essential to recover from the morass of last season’ 2-10 2018 that included 0-8 in the SEC.
“This is a line of scrimmage league,” Morris, the ultra-successful high school coach in Texas who previously head coached at SMU in the American Athletic Conference after first coaching in college as offensive coordinator at Tulsa and Clemson, said Wednesday. “And if you don’t have the depth on both sides of the ball, you’ve got some issues late in the year. Because injuries are going to happen. You had better have that depth.”
They didn’t have it in 2018 with the O-line numbers inherited from the Bret Bielema regime.
The 2019 O-line numbers will be up even with 2018 starting linemen Hjalte Froholdt, Johnny Gibson and Brian Wallace graduated.
“We played with eight scholarship offensive linemen the entire year last year,” Morris said. “We signed six offensive linemen and are expecting some of those guys to contribute (immediately). Myron Cunningham being one of them.”
Cunningham, a junior college transfer enrolled at the UA last January, immediately impacted in spring practice at both guard and tackle.
Cunningham’s versatility is a key.
For Morris, offensive coordinator Joe Craddock and offensive line coach Dustin Fry vow regardless of what appears to their assigned position, they will cross train to get the “best five” on the starting O-line.
The numbers are better on the D-line but Morris said they still weren’t enough, particularly with him and defensive coordinator John “Chief” Chavis knowing tackle and Hope High grad McTelvin “Sosa” Agim, who nearly turned pro after last season, and fellow starting tackle T.J. Smith, and current starting defensive ends Dorian Gerald and Gabe Richardson all are seniors.
“Increasing that depth there allows us to put some pieces in place,” Morris said.
While lauding senior tight end Cheyenne “C.J” O’Grady and incoming freshman tight end Hudson Henry and returning running backs Rakeem Boyd, Whaley and Chase Hayden, Morris acknowledged lack of big, fast receivers getting open hampered last season’s since transferred quarterbacks Ty Storey and Cole Kelley.
So tall four-star freshmen wideouts, Trey Knox, Treylon Burks and Shamar Nash were signed.
“We had to address size and speed at that wide receiver position and bring in guys that are going to have to play this year,” Morris said. “We did that. I’m excited about the receivers coming in.”
Morris also volunteered the immediate impact expected of former Vanderbilt punter Sam Loy, transferring with immediate eligibility after redshirting last year transferred to Colorado.
“Punting was a weakness,” Morris said. “Because of that, we went out and brought in an experienced punter.”
How about that quarterback competition between Hicks and Starkel while incoming freshman KJ Jefferson presumably apprentices at the outset.
“We’re excited about our quarterback battle that we have with the addition of Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel,” Morris said. “It will be an interesting battle as we go into fall camp."
Native Texan Morris of course is familiar with Hicks of Waco, Texas, whom he signed in 2015 and redshirted at SMU then was his two-year starter and took immediate command of the Razorbacks last spring, but says he’s also familiar with Starkel of Argyle, Texas, recruited throughout Texas and the southwest.
“I had recruited Nick out of high school and know what kind of arm he has and his experience in the fact that he’s graduated with two years left,” Morris said.
Morris called Starkel’s arm “electric.”
He also said Hicks, 5-7 and 7-6 as Morris’ SMU starter after redshirting while rookie coach Morris’ 2015 Mustangs 2-10, started changing the Razorbacks culture last winter.
“He’s been a quarterback of a football team that went 2-10,” Morris said. “And he’s also dug a team out of being in that position before. So he understands what our culture is about and staying consistent. His leadership has been invaluable.”