FAYETTEVILLE – Though a linebacker by trade, Grant Morgan also plays on Razorbacks special teams.
So for his first opportunity as a Razorback, the fifth-year senior from Greenwood relishes having a full-time special teams coordinator as much as the punters and place-kickers do.
The Razorbacks had no special teams coordinator during Morgan’s two years under Bret Bielema and first year under Chad Morris. Barry Lunney had the title last year but was busy coaching tight ends and then the final two games interim head coach with Morris canned.
Scott Fountain coaches only special teams for new Arkansas Head Coach Sam Pittman just as Fountain did when he and offensive line coach Pittman assisted Kirby Smart at Georgia.
“I think one thing that really sets the tone is when Coach Pittman brought Coach Fountain over we realized special teams is a third of the whole game,” Morgan said after Tuesday night’s practice. “Really in yardage it puts up just as much as offense and defense. Coach Fountain comes in and emphasizes special teams and shows the best special teams are usually when your best guys are playing on them. He’s showing examples after examples of people going to the league because everyone here wants to go to the NFL.”
While realizing now they’re more special than ever, Morgan always put a special emphasis playing special teams on his path from the walk-on to scholarship 3-year letterman linebacker determined in his farewell year to lead the Razorbacks out of consecutive 1-7, 0-8, 0-8 SEC records.
“I’ve really loved special teams the last three years,” Morgan said. “I’ve really just loved being a part of every single one I can be on.”
Morgan wasn’t mentioned much as a linebacker by Pittman during some of Arkansas’ always closed preseason practices.
That became at least partially explained Tuesday. Without getting specific whether involved it COVID-19 symptoms or contract tracing back to someone afflicted, Morgan said he had missed time quarantined.
Throughout preseason, Pittman has publicly stressed nobody has taken firm command of the top middle and weakside linebacking spots and not often praised those position players as a whole like he has the defensive line and secondary.
How do the linebackers take that?
“I really don’t think anybody needs any more chips on their shoulder in our linebacker room,” Morgan said. “Because I think every single person is trying to be the best they can be. Coach Pittman is saying that stuff because he knows not a single position is already set in stone for any position on the field. I think that’s the difference between our team right now compared to the past that I’ve been here. I think that we’ve really grown into fighting for our positions and fighting for something that we all want to get better.
Fountain and senior kick returner/receiver De’Vion Warren also were Zoom media available post Tuesday’s practice.
Breaking the adage of it ain’t broke don’t fix it, Fountain has changed outstanding sophomore punt returner Treylon Burks’ unorthodox catching punts with hands above his head to the conventional.
“ I said ‘Treylon, if an NFL team has two guys of equal value, both great returners – and you’re a great returner – who are they gonna take?” Fountain said. “A guy that catches above his head or a guy that’s gonna catch it properly with a body tuck? So he kind of took it to heart and has really worked on it. I’m really, really proud of him.”
He of course would be with Burks succeeding with his own style, but the over the head risks are obvious.
“Any time you catch the ball above your head or you’re running down the field with the ball over your head, it’s certainly got a better chance of getting knocked out,” Fountain said. “We’d just like him to tuck the ball to his body and keep that from happening. I’m just trying to work with him on securing it and trying to not only make his future better here but make his future better down the road. He’s a heck of a kid and a heck of a return guy.”
Warren, a 100-yard touchdown kickoff return against Auburn, is a heck of a kickoff return guy and on other special teams including punt, punt return and kickoff coverage.
“De’Vion’s a kid I really like,” Fountain said. “He really picks it up quick and can do a lot of things.”
Warren said Fountain puts special teams through situations during the thick of practice.
“We go through a very tough period and then we go to special teams,” Warren said. “Because when it comes to a game, the transition of going from offense or defense to special teams is a big key. That’s when a lot of people are tired. So he tries to make it as game-like as possible.”
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3, Sports Action