What do Cole Kelley, Ty Storey, Connor Noland, Ben Hicks, Nick Starkel, John Stephen Jones, K.J. Jefferson and Jack Lindsey have in common? Each came off the bench at quarterback for Arkansas and each was a starter only to return to the bench again. That’s right. In a two season stretch exactly eight different Razorbacks have been been a part of the crazy game of musical chairs that plagued the (brief) Chad Morris era at the school.
One thing we all know for sure, when Arkansas football starts back up there will be a ninth new starter in last 25 games. Right now the next man up appears to former Florida Gator Feleipe Franks. He will also be the third grad transfer quarterback in two seasons for the Hogs. Did Sam Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles get this one right where Morris and Joe Craddock could not?
There is no question that Franks comes in with a stronger resume than Hicks or Starkel. In 2018 Franks led Florida to a 10-3 season and a number six national ranking. The Gators were 2-0 in 2019 when Franks suffered a season ending ankle injury that required surgery.
“He’s done it at a really high level,” Briles said in discussing the decision to bring Franks to Arkansas. “Going through all our research on him, talking to different coaches and players that have known him, he’s a great kid. Great locker room guy and extremely hard worker.”
Unlike Hicks, Franks will not have a spring football campaign to adjust to a new coaching staff and a new offense. In fact even though he has been on campus for four months, Franks has yet to show off what he can do to his new quarterbacks coach.
“We just want to see him throw a football,” Briles said in frustration when asked about how Franks will fit into Arkansas’ offense. “That’s the craziest thing, you know. I’ve been around him since January and I haven’t seen him throw a football. It’s kind of important to play that position.”
At this point Franks is doing what he can to ease into his new role, something every other college football player is dealing with at this point. He’s attending eight hours a week worth of video conferences with his coaches and working out on his own with a few teammates.
“I can learn in a classroom but I’m also a guy that needs to go out on the field and learn like that,” Franks said in a teleconference with the Razorback media. “It’s definitely hard but if you have a plan it makes things easier. I think we’re on the right track. If we approach it the right way it’ll be a blessing.”
At least seven of the eight previous starting quarterbacks at Arkansas struggled to learn the power spread offense touted by Chad Morris who constantly mentioned that it was a challenge to teach them his entire playbook. Even with the current limitations Briles says he has no worries about that.
“We can install the entire offense,” Briles predicted. “We’ve got enough time. But can we execute it? You really don’t know what you’re good at. What maybe you’re not so good at. But our guys will have a lot of knowledge when we come back together and we get going.”
One aspect of missing spring football may have actually helped Franks. His rehab from the September injury was estimated at six months and he had to occasionally skip some of the running involved in Arkansas’ winter conditioning program. Living and working out in Fayetteville for the remainder of the spring semester after team activities were shut down, Franks believes he’s now fully recovered from his September injury. He’s also been able to throw the football to a few of his teammates who remained in Fayetteville with him.
“There’s different guys that come out when they’re available,” Frank explained. “I think the rule is you can’t be in large groups so it kind of varies from day to day. It’s been good. These guys have been some of the most motivated guys I’ve been around.”
Many grad transfers bring some type of baggage with them or they would not likely have left their previous school. Franks brings something that should make Hog fans sit up and take notice. In his time at Florida the Gators went from a 4-7 season in 2017 to 41-15 win over Michigan in the 2018 Peach Bowl. Franks made it known that he didn’t pick Arkansas by accident. He said he was looking for a school where he could have an real impact. The Hogs’ back to back 2-10 seasons under Morris represented a challenge for him.
“I’ve seen it first hand. It’s the motivation. We have it on this team, “Franks declared. “It takes that one spark. Maybe it’s a different coaching staff. A change. I love being the underdog. I think that’s what makes me go harder each and every day. Just to prove people wrong. I think that’s a good mentality for this team to have as well. Just keep proving people wrong.”
Can Feleipe Franks end a string of quarterback frustrations that stretches all the way back to the day Brandon Allen walked off the field for Arkansas for the last time after the 2016 Liberty Bowl?