South Carolina and Vanderbilt have wrapped up their spring camps, and now the rest of the conference will have the opportunity to show their stuff. This Saturday, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Auburn will play in their televised scrimmages. Here are a few things that I’ve learned thus far as well as some things that I will be looking for.
I’m not sure if I can recall as stark of a contrast in offensive philosophy as what we will see from the Hogs between 2017 and 2018. Chad Morris, former Clemson Offensive Coordinator and Southern Methodist Head Coach, has his coaching roots in the state of Texas and will undoubtedly lean on his recruiting connections to get Arkansas turned around. This is an excerpt from Footballstudyhall.com that describes Morris’ offense:
“The Morris playbook is a variant of the smashmouth spread, not totally lacking in familiarity from the spread-I heavy Air Raid systems of Mike Gundy or Dana Holgorsen. He’s used it with and without dual-threat QBs as the consistent ethos of the system is still “run the ball with two-back concepts, then throw it over the top” regardless of whether the QB does any of the running himself.
The overall system is all about hurry-up tempo, and indeed Morris was one of the big influencers within the state of Texas to move towards up-tempo pacing.
This season at SMU they were led by Ben Hicks, who’s more of a pocket passer and who threw for 3,448 yards at 7.3 ypa with 32 TDs and nine INTs. The Mustangs very impressively surrounded him with playmakers including a 1k yard back in Xavier Jones, two 1k yard receivers in Trey Quinn and Courtland Sutton (12 TD receptions apiece) as well as an 800-yard receiver in James Proche. The tempo helps allow so many different skill players to get so many chances to get yards and scores.
This is a massive departure from the Bielema style in which the Hogs were huddling, shortening the game, and looking to wear down opponents with a bruising run game.”
Let’s start with the quarterbacks that may be running the show. Cole “Steamboat” Kelley and Ty Storey appear to be the two most likely candidates to be QB1 in 2018. At 6’7” and 250+ pounds, Kelley is surprisingly an effective runner. He isn’t going to outrun most defenders but at his size, he can cause defenders to make business decisions, and he is a weapon like the “Belldozer” was at Oklahoma near the goal line. Morris told him he needed to slim down this off-season and he has reportedly lost ten pounds in an attempt to be lighter on his feet. As far as arm talent goes, he’s got a hose like Uncle Rico. One of the things that plagued fireballers like Josh Allen and Jacob Eason is that they often lacked touch on their passes and can make short passes far more difficult on their pass catchers than need be. I know he can throw the downfield shots that Morris will want, but can he be consistent and take what the defense gives him? Ty Storey was a highly touted prospect from Arkansas but his time in Fayetteville has been very underwhelming. When he has gotten his chances, he hasn’t done much with them. He has appeared uncomfortable in the pocket and generally hasn’t looked the part of an SEC QB. The good news, he has reportedly been impressive while operating this new system. I’m looking forward to seeing how both guys look on Saturday but will also be cognizant of the likely handicap towards Kelley of not being able to fully maximize his running ability.
Running back is a position where Arkansas has plenty of talent. The previous staff did a nice job of getting talented runners on the roster, and this has been an attractive destination for RBs for many years. In Morris’ system, speed and pass-catching ability are key elements that he looks for in a back. As such, Chase Hayden and TJ Hammonds have an opportunity for an increased workload in 2018. Hayden is a personal favorite of mine for Devy purposes, and I believe he could be a very valuable RB in PPR formats this fall. This offense will likely provide some light boxes for the runners and Hayden is a terror in space. Devwah Whaley also possesses tremendous ability, and he has been praised by the staff this spring. The talent extends beyond those three, but I believe those are the names that currently have the most value in both CFF and Devy leagues.
Similar to the RB room, Arkansas has an assortment of pass catchers that come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and skill sets. Morris generally deploys a diverse troop out wide, and he will rotate guys through in order to maintain fresh amidst the often blistering tempo. The Hogs have several talented TEs and Morris has shown that he will be adaptable to TEs various skill sets within his scheme. From SECSports: “As a result, several tight ends — Cheyenne O’Grady, Jeremy Patton, Grayson Gunter, Will Gragg and Austin Cantrell — are receiving enough snaps to stay happy in the new scheme. “The tight end is used everywhere in this offense,” O’Grady said. “We’re on the line, we’re off the line, we’re split out, we’re everywhere. We’re used in every aspect of our offense. I’m having the most fun I’ve had since I’ve been here.” Big, athletic WRs like Martavis Bryant and Courtland Sutton will have an opportunity to thrive in this offense. Arkansas has several in a similar mold between Kolian Jackson, Brandon Martin, and La’Michael Pettway. One guy that has my attention is TrFR Michael Woods (compared by staff to Sutton). How is this for production playing 5A Texas ball? In three seasons, he caught 155 passes for 2,988 yards and 41 touchdowns. From a Devy standpoint, I would say that Pettway, Woods, and Martin have the most intrigue – although, Martin is seemingly injured everytime I check in so that window may be closing. The small to average sized WRs will likely consist of Jared Cornelius, Jonathan Nance, De’Vion Warren, and Deon Stewart. Each of those players has shown promise while at Arkansas but none have done enough to lead me to believe there is currently an alpha. There will undoubtedly be value in CFF with this group but I’m currently unsure where it lies.
According to SECSports, “The spring game will be first-team defense against the first-team offense. Morris says he hasn’t yet ironed out the specifics of the scoring system. He will limit some players by design because he already knows where they are on how much they can contribute in the fall. He wants to give a lot of the young guys a chance to show what they can do.”
Not to hang my IDP brethren out to dry, DL McTelvin “Sosa” Agim and LB Dre Greenlaw would be two names to know. Beyond that, keep an eye on EDGE Randy Ramsey and LB De’Jon “Scoota” Harris. John Chavis takes over this defense and will run his 4-3. There is talent at all levels of the field so it’s not unrealistic to expect a decent group this fall.
Tomorrow: Ole Miss