FAYETTEVILLE – From the all you’ve got is their word Arkansas Razorbacks closed scrimmage Saturday, Arkansas quarterbacks Ben Hicks, Nick Starkel, John Stephen Jones and KJ Jefferson all fared well after redshirt freshman Jones jump-started the offense.
“John Stephen got in on the second series and he led his team down, his group down and scored,” Arkansas Coach Chad Morris said. “He showed just his ability to make plays happen when the pocket breaks down with his eyes down the field.”
Redshirt freshman Jones inevitably is perceived behind SMU graduate transfer Hicks and Texas A&M graduate transfer Starkel, but apparently flipped the ignition switch Saturday.
“I thought that John Stephen started it off for the most part,” Morris said. “He led us down on about I believe a seven or eight play drive with a touchdown pass. From there it just kind of caught fire with some guys making plays.”
Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock recalled a Jones to Tyson Morris deep pass accelerating momentum that all the quarterbacks continued as the what Chad Morris said was an estimated 175-play scrimmage went on.
Freshman receiver Trey Knox caught Jones’ touchdown pass.
Morris said Hicks threw touchdowns to senior tight end Chase Harrell and junior wide receiver Jordan Jones and that Starkel throw touchdowns to sophomore receiver Mike Woods and freshman receiver Shamar Nash.
Morris said rushing touchdowns were achieved by running backs Devwah Whaley and Chase Hayden and Trelon Smith, compelled to redshirt as an underclassman transfer from Arizona State but already impressing the staff and teammates for 2020.
“This kid’s got a chance to be really special,” Morris said. “He showed flashes today.”
Linebacker Hayden Henry was impressed, too.
“He’s like water,” Henry said. “He slips through the cracks. every play. He’s a very dynamic back. Too bad he has to sit out this year because he could be a really good player for us.”
Regarding the quarterback battle and who starts the Aug. 31 season-opener against Portland State, it seems bound to go at least another week through next Saturday’s scrimmage.
“I was pleased with all of them,” Morris said. “Those guys are responding. They’re challenging each other.”
What ultimately will separate them?
“I think consistency,” Morris said. “Consistency and just the ability to not just lead one group down the field, but how do you respond when you’re put in an adverse situation? Maybe it’s a different group that you’re not used to leading. Just consistency all across the board.”
Morris also mentioned true freshman quarterbackJefferson.
“KJ Jefferson continues to impress us,” Morris said. “He’s physical and he’s big and really good in his decision making. And he showed that today. I was pleased with where all four of them are right now. We’ve got a great competition going.”
Morris said both sides of the ball competed in the high heat and humidity he had hoped for to test them.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis goes into every game and scrimmage seeking at least three turnovers from his crew.
They netted Saturday. Morris cited an interception by cornerback Montaric “Buster” Brown and a fumble recovery by freshman defensive end Zach Williams.
Third-year sophomore Jarques McClellion, a battlefield promoted corner last year through injuries and departures, and Brown, a reserve from Ashdown last year now first-team with Ryan Pulley turned pro, both impressed Morris Saturday.
“I thought Jarques continues to get better,” Morris said. “He made some great play on the ball today. Buster’s the same way.”
The defense likely would have increased the pressure for turnovers had its senior stars, middle linebacker Scoota Harris, the 2018 SEC leading tackler, and defensive tackle Sosa Agim of Hope played more than a series or two before being pulled rather than risk injury.
“When they were in there they were both very disruptive and active,” Morris said. “We limited them today. We know what they can do. Then they got an opportunity to start coaching some of those young guys on the sidelines. That was good to see.”
Chavis cited backup middle linebacker Grant Morgan of Greenwood, starting weakside linebacker Bumper Pool and backup weakside ‘backer Hayden Henry for carrying on “without dropoff” when Harris too his rest.
Chavis did reiterated that “two turnovers weren’t enough,” for his defense to muster in 175 plays.
Senior first-team defensive tackle T.J. Smith, also cited by Morris, is playing better as a littler big man.
“I just got out of practice and weighed 277,” Smith said. “Last year toward the end of the season I was like 310. That was a focus, just getting my body where I wanted it to be and where it needed to be to play fast. I’m moving a lot better and a lot more agile and I’m able to last a lot longer.”
The Razorbacks take Sunday off and start Monday what Morris calls a crucial week of practice closing with the last major Saturday scrimmage of the preseason.
“Obviously next Saturday I expect it to be better than it was this Saturday,” Morris said.