The third of four SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Alabama, Wednesday was time for Arkansas football head coach Chad Morris to address the media.
Along with Joe Moorhead (Mississippi State), Will Muschamp (South Carolina) and Nick Saban (Alabama), Chad Morris took his turn at the podium on Wednesday.
Coming off a program-worst 2-10 record in his first season at the helm, there are a lot of questions entering year two of the Morris era.
There has been quite a bit of turnover on the roster, including at the quarterback position. Gone are Cole Kelley and Ty Storey, who combined to throw 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2018.
Two new transfer additions have been at the center of the conversation. Ben Hicks was Morris’ starting quarterback for two seasons at SMU and has thrown for over 9,000 yards in his collegiate career. Nick Starkel, who was surpassed by Kellen Mond at Texas A&M, has SEC experience and joined the program in early March.
“We’re excited about our quarterback battle,” Morris said. “With the additions of Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel and to watch the development of John Stephen Jones through the spring and the valuable reps that he got; it will be an interesting battle as we go into fall camp.”
This certainly will be an intriguing battle. Morris’ offense is a fast-paced, no-huddle system, so getting it right at the most important position will be vital to the team’s improvement hopes.
Winning the battle in the trenches is key to winning football games and Arkansas placed an emphasis on these positional groups.
“Offensive line is an area that we have to improve. We knew that. We knew this had to be a focus going into year two in how we developed and how we recruited bringing in six, signing six offensive linemen and expecting some of those guys to contribute. Myron Cunningham being one of them, a junior college guy we brought in.”
All six of these offensive line additions are three-star prospects according to 247Sports. Center Ricky Stromberg, a Tulsa, Oklahoma product, was the No. 6 center in the class and tackle Chibueze Nwanna (Scranton, Pennsylvania) ranked inside the top-10 tackles nationally.
The defense must improve at all three levels, as the 2018 Razorbacks allowed 34.8 PPG, 108th in the nation. Morris spoke about the tenants that John Chavis’ unit will prioritize.
“Our defense is built on speed and stopping the run and understanding it’s a line of scrimmage league. I feel like we have the pieces in place to continue to show improvements as we move into this season.”
Linebacker De’Jon “Scoota” Harris also returns and has racked up 233 tackles over the last two seasons.
Being in the early stages of a rebuild is not unfamiliar territory for the 50-year-old head coach.
“I’ve been in this position before. I’ve stood in the same area of record, of building a program. Year one at Arkansas was like when we got to Clemson and watching the values and the vision that were set in place and in movement and the challenges that you had to go through in changing a culture. Year one at SMU (was similar).”
Clemson was 6-7 in 2010, the year before Morris’ arrival. Joining the staff as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, the Tigers would win at least 10 games in each of Morris’ four seasons at the school.
Inheriting a 1-11 SMU program, Morris’ first Mustangs team went 2-10, identical to his first year at Arkansas. They won five games in his second year and reached a bowl game and finished with seven wins in his final season.
I think Arkansas fans would be happy with a similar trajectory in Fayetteville.
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