HOGS: Chavis likes depth at linebacker
FAYETTEVILLE - Though he’s Arkansas offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Joe Craddock reiterated Chad Morris’s assertion that the head coach has “one more vote than anybody else” on his Razorbacks staff.
So with Morris doing his radio show Wednesday night, Craddock wasn’t about to hint whether graduate transfer from SMU Ben Hicks or graduate transfer from Texas A&M Nick Starkel will start at quarterback Aug. 31 against Portland State at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Craddock and defensive coordinator John Chavis addressed media Wednesday evening after the Razorbacks held an 80-play scrimmage indoors at the Walker Pavilion because of lightning and rain late in the afternoon.
“Hopefully sooner than later we’ll be able to name somebody,” Craddock said. “I know coach has his radio show tonight … and some other things. It probably won’t be in the next couple of days. But we’ll try to get somebody named here pretty soon. Whoever we decide to go with they’ve got to be in a position to lead our offense and get our unit in the end zone. That’s the main thing.”
Hicks started for Morris and Craddock at SMU in 2016 and 2017. Starkel has been an SEC starter at Texas A&M. Craddock said the Hogs are ahead of the quarterbacking game compared to 2018 when Morris and Craddock inherited lesser experienced QBs who played in an entirely different system under former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.
“I feel confident and here’s why,” Craddock said. “Ben’s been in the system for several years. Nick has come in and learned it very quickly. I’ve been very impressed with how intelligent he is and how quickly he picked up our offense.”
PLAYING IT SAFE
Craddock said QBs and many first-team players were limited during the 80-play scrimmage with game week approaching and several Razorbacks banged up. Senior receiver/punt returner Deon Stewart and redshirt freshman offensive tackle Noah Gatlin are lost for the season with knee injuries.
“We were holding some guys out on the offensive line,” Craddock said, “at receiver and at running back. We couldn’t afford to lose anybody else. It feels like every time we scrimmage, we lose a couple of guys. Today was good because we didn’t get anybody hurt. That was the main focus of today, make sure we get good work but keep everybody healthy.”
Chavis dittoed that the defense came through Wednesday’s scrimmage in good health.
Chavis’ first-team defense seems set, but competition abounds on the second unit. Many are freshmen, whom Chavis is loathe to discuss until they’ve played, but Chavis praised them without actually naming them.
Freshmen defensive tackles Taurean Carter and Marcus Miller and ends Mataio Soli and Collin Clay compete for second-team time.
Chavis did cite two of his veteran backups, fourth-year junior Grant Morgan of Greenwood playing behind senior middle linebacker Scoota Harris, and junior Hayden Henry of Pulaski Academy who plays behind weakside linebacker Bumper Pool while also working at strongside linebacker when Chavis employs a true 4-3 rather than using a nickel back in a 5-man secondary.
“Scoota’s a great player,” Chavis said. “But we can put Grant Morgan in there, and it doesn’t drop off that much. We’ve worked Hayden Henry a bunch at Will linebacker. He’s ready to play there. If we’re going to be in a 3-linebacker scheme, he’s our starting Sam ‘backer.”
Chavis also mentioned junior D’Vone McClure of Jacksonville at Will and Sam linebacker.
LIMPERT BOOMS ONE
Media saw senior Lou Groza Award Watch List place-kicker Connor Limpert kick a 56-yard field goal Wednesday and saw the blur of either defensive tackle Sosa Agim or safety Kamren Curl block a Matthew Phillips field goal attempt.
The Razorbacks remaining last preseason week’s itinerary includes this morning’s light practice, some contact work in Friday’s entirely closed practice and Saturday’s non-contact dress rehearsal Beanie Bowl.
Craddock offered a poignantly emotional reply Wednesday when asked about Wendy Anderson, the wife of Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson, dying this week after a long battle with cancer.
Blake Anderson was the Middle Tennessee State University assistant who recruited Craddock to quarterback MTSU.
“Miss Wendy was a great person,” Craddock said. “I remember her through the recruiting process. I remember her being around a lot with the team. She fought really, really hard. My heart goes out for Coach. I would not be standing here today without Blake Anderson giving me a shot to play college football. I know Coach will bounce back and go through the grieving process, but it’s really sad.”