FAYETTEVILLE – First-year Arkansas head coach Chad Morris will have plenty of questions to answer when the Razorbacks open spring drills on March 1. The Hogs will practice 15 times in a six-week span, with the annual Red-White spring game set for Saturday, April 7 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
For those who cover the Razorbacks for a living, it’s hard to know what to expect this spring. Everything is brand new. The coaches, the schemes, even Razorback Stadium will look quite a bit different.
One thing is for certain, though, Arkansas’s quarterback competition will dominate the headlines.
The Hogs return a four-game starter from last year in redshirt-sophomore Cole Kelley, but many are questioning how well the 6-6, 270-pound gunslinger will fit Morris’ offense. In fairness to Kelley, the strength staff is making it a priority to trim his weight in the current eight-week conditioning cycle, so he’ll likely be quite a bit slimmer heading into the 2018 season.
Another positive for Kelley is that he is, by far, the most experienced signal caller on the roster after playing in nine games last year. He finished with 1,038 passing yards and eight touchdowns against four interceptions. The big Louisiana native known as “Steamboat” also rushed for 74 yards and two more scores.
After Kelley, Arkansas’s spring depth chart will include redshirt-junior Ty Storey, who has a total of four passing attempts in five career games played, and freshman Daulton Hyatt, who redshirted in 2017.
Walk-on redshirt-sophomores Jack Lindsey and Carson Proctor give the Razorbacks added depth, and 2018 signees Connor Noland and John Stephen Jones are expected to join the program in May.
Going back to Kelley, the biggest question mark has nothing to do with his ability to complete the deep vertical throws that Morris likes to utilize in his play-action attack. It’s well known that Kelley has the biggest arm on the team. It all comes down to how effective he can be as a running threat.
In terms of pulling the ball down and plowing through a defender to pick up a much-need first down, Kelley can do that. It can be painful to watch at times, but he can do it.
But how well does he fit the new offense in terms of quickness and being able to get going on a run-pass option play?
Morris won’t ask him to be a guy that rushes for 500 yards like Tajh Boyd and DeShaun Watson were able to do during his time as Clemson’s offensive coordinator.
Technically, there is no target number of rushing yards that any of Arkansas’s quarterbacks have to meet, as Morris’ last two quarterbacks at SMU didn’t even reach 100 yards on the ground for the year.
The threat of running is what’s most important.
Storey isn’t a blazer by any means, but would offer more quickness than Kelley. However, Storey will need to drastically improve his arm strength this offseason in order to make a run at the starting job.
The real wildcard in this year’s race is Hyatt, who receives high praise from those who attended every practice last season. Hyatt is a mystery man because he received very limited reps during summer camp last August, but those close to the team say he’s capable of making all the throws and is clearly the group’s biggest running threat. The downside is his lack of experience, but he’ll be interesting to watch this spring.
Arkansas will add two other capable runners to the mix when Noland and Jones arrive this summer, but it’s a lot to ask either one to come in and compete for the starting job as true freshmen, especially since neither will be around for spring drills.
However the competition shakes out this spring, this will be a story to follow until Arkansas opens its season in September.