By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – Starting Year Two, the Chad Morris Arkansas Razorbacks regime added team speed it desperately sought.
But it didn’t add to its top speed.
Jordan Jones, the receiver recruited out of Smackover and redshirted in 2016 by Arkansas’ former Bret Bielema regime and lettering in 2017 as a reserve for Bielema and for Morris in 2018, remains the fastest Razorback, second-year strength coach Trumain Carroll confirmed at the outset of Arkansas’ since underway preseason drills.
“ Starting out with fastest guys on the team, obviously you are well aware of Jordan Jones,” Carroll said.
A Morris recruit, redshirt freshman reserve defensive back LaDarrius Bishop of Ashdown, is the Razorback most apt to give Jones a run for his money in a sprint, Carroll surmised.
“I don’t want to speak on it,” Jones said, smiling when asked who is faster. “I told him I wanted to race him and see how it is in competition. He’s pretty fast. He’s pretty quick, too. I think it will be a good race one day.”
For his position group, receivers coach Justin Stepp certainly asserts none is faster than the Smackover speedster.
“He’s been blessed with a lot of God-given speed and a lot of God-given ability,” Stepp said.
Given his size (6-1, 180) speed, ability and potential it seemed Jones was bound for annual improvement.
But after going from 2016 redshirt to strong 2017 letterman with 20 catches for 402 yards and 3 touchdown catches, Jones, upon starring with 5 catches for 132 yards including a 57-yard touchdown in the 55-20 season-opener over outmanned Eastern Illinois, Jones struggled like the rest of the 2-10 Hogs last year. For the remaining 16 of his season’s catches, Jones netted just 59 yards. He finished with 17 catches for 191 yards and that first-game TD.
A disappointment, it seemed.
Stepp demurred. He explained why as part of an offensive staff that other than holdover tight ends coach Barry Lunney entirely accompanied Morris to Arkansas as his 2015 through 2017 assistants at SMU.
“I wouldn’t say disappointment,” Stepp said. “There were a lot of things Jordan had to learn about us and kind of the way we operate. I think there was a huge learning curve.”
And not just for Jordan Jones.
“I think everybody struggled a little bit last year,” Stepp said. “We struggled as coaches.”
Jones was asked if individually he took 2018 as a disappointment.
“I wouldn’t say it was a disappointment but I was disappointed in some of my stats and numbers,” Jones said. “But it’s not all about me. Whatever I can do to help get wins, that’s what I am going to do.”
Stepp saw Jones doing just that in spring drills and the summer offseason joined by a flock of freshman flashes going into the August preseason.
“He’s stepped up,” Stepp said. “Obviously competition at his position helps. He’s had an unbelievable spring and really good summer. I’m excited to see what he does this fall.”
Jones started the season believing he knows the offense and that he and senior 3-year letterman receiver Deon Stewart of Hardy can impart it to true freshmen Trey Knox, Shamar Nash, Treylon Burks and T.Q. Jackson.
“It’s different because I’m the old guy and I’m used to being a younger guy,” Jones said. “I’m helping the younger guys as much as I can when they ask questions and try to give as much to them as the older guys before gave me. Me, Deon, (sophomore letterman) Mike Woods, the guys that played a lot last year. We’re trying to be there for those younger guys. The world is spinning for them, everything is so fast. We’re trying to calm them down and give them as much as help as we can.”
Jones said he can help them off being help himself learning from last year’s hard knocks and what this staff expects.
“We had tough times at times last year during the season, but I feel we’re a lot better than last year,” Jones said. “I’m a lot more comfortable in the offense. Knowing what I’m doing I can line up quicker and feel like that takes a lot more pressure off me and the other guys, too, to play faster.”
It’s not just speed, Jones has learned, that makes you play fast.
“I think in high school he was so much faster and better than everybody,” Stepp said. “But at this level in this conference you’ve got have attention to detail. Just bringing that attention to detail every day he has done so much better. That’s why I’m excited to see what he’ll do this fall.”