By Otis Kirk
Arkansas’ Chad Morris is set to begin his second season at Arkansas.
The first season didn’t go as hoped as Arkansas was 2-10, but following an offseason of changes the outlook for 2019 is brighter. Several players left the squad, but now the ones who chose to stay are likely the ones who bought in. They will join a talented recruiting class as Arkansas looks to make 2019 a much improved season.
While the outlook for 2019 is seemingly much brighter there’s still questions as with any football team this time of year. Here’s five questions that need to be answered this fall.
1. Who Will Be The Quarterback?
Arkansas added two grad transfer quarterbacks in the offseason. Former SMU quarterback Ben Hicks will be a senior while Nick Starkel came in from Texas A&M and is a junior. Gone are Ty Storey, Cole Kelley and Connor Noland from last season. John Stephen Jones, Jack Lindsey, Daulton Hyatt and true freshman KJ Jefferson are also in the mix. While anything can happen it appears the battle for the starter will come down to Hicks and Starkel. Hicks has the advantage in that he has played in Morris’ system at SMU. Starkel though has the skills to certainly present a challenge. It will be interesting to see if Arkansas can play Jefferson four or fewer games like it did Noland and Jones in 2018 while yet preserving his redshirt. If Hicks starts the Portland State game how longer leash will he have? Kelley started the opener last year only to see Storey start the second game. Should be an interesting battle this fall.
2. Can Offensive Line Protect The Quarterback?
Many times in 2018 the quarterback was running for his life much of the time. The offensive line suffered several injuries in preseason and was short on depth to begin with. Morris and Dustin Fry have taken steps to add talent and depth there. Myron Cunningham is going to be a very good new addition. He went through spring drills and looked very good. The line still has question marks, but if Fry can piece together a cohesive unit the quarterback play will be made much simpler. Neither Hicks nor Starkel are known for their ability to scramble so it’s important this group is much improved and allows them time to find their receivers. There’s a lot of questions concerning the offensive line, but hopefully Fry is able to find some answers early on in fall camp. Good health for the unit would be a nice start since that was one luxury Fry didn’t have the entire preseason in 2018.
3. How Good Will Secondary Be?
Arkansas has a very young secondary back in 2019. Junior Kamren Curl is the most experienced member of the group following 22 starts in two years. He started 11 games at cornerback in 2017 and 11 more at safety in 2018. Gone are safety Santos Ramirez and cornerback Ryan Pulley. The Hogs have Montaric Brown and Jarques McClellion at cornerback and Joe Foucha is expected to join Curl at safety. The backups are young and inexperienced too. The Hogs will need a good pass rush from the more experienced defensive line to take some pressure off this group at least early in the season. Greg Brooks and Devin Bush are two true freshmen who came in at midterm.
4. Will Linebacker Have Enough Depth?
De’Jon Harris returns as a key senior leader on the team. He will man one of the linebacker spots with sophomore Bumper Pool likely at the other one. Junior Hayden Henry will see plenty of action as will juniors D’Vone McClure, Giovanni LaFrance, Deon Edwards and Grant Morgan. Redshirt freshman Andrew Parker needs to have a big preseason to get into the picture for more playing time. Zach Zimos was the lone linebacker signed by the Hogs in 2019 and he should be in a possible position to help immediately. Harris and Pool remaining healthy and John Chavis developing some depth will be a key for the Hogs this fall.
5. More Big Play Potential at Wide Receiver?
Arkansas signed four wide receivers in the Class of 2019 and it will be important that some of them add some playmaking skills at this position. Arkansas needs the wide receivers to make some big plays and be deep threats in 2019. Last season Arkansas struggled in this area. Of course not all of it was on the wide receivers. Part of the time if they were open the quarterback wasn’t able to get them the ball due to pressure from the opposing defense. But Trey Knox, Treylon Burks, Shamar Nash and TQ Jackson need to join the returning wide receivers and produce big plays. Knox and Nash showed that ability in the spring. Burks and Jackson should be able to as well. Jordan Jones, De’Vion Warren, Koilan Jackson, Michael Woods and Deon Stewart are among the returnees who need to play well too.