1. What was the vibe like for Arkansas’ spring practices with new head coach Chad Morris?
Like what happens a lot of times with new coaching staffs, there was a ton of trying to build up excitement for the future with Morris’ new up-tempo play. You can’t go anywhere or read anything with out hearing “left lane” or “hammer down” with Morris trying to install his new culture. He’s definitely trying bring in this new youthful, exciting vibe to the whole program and so far most fans are liking what they hear. There’s also a much more positive vibe coming out of this spring because everyone is healthy. Last year Arkansas lost Rawleigh Williams at the end of spring ball and it was really an omen for the rest of the year. Getting everyone out healthy and the NCAA allowing a sixth year of eligibility for Kevin Richardson gives this spring a more positive feeling than last year.
2. What are expectations like for this team in year one? Patience for a rebuild, or expectations for him to hit the ground running?
There’s definitely pressure to improve the defense right away, but it’s pretty well understood there needs to be patience with the offense. The good news is the schedule is pretty favorable this year. Because Michigan cancelled a home and home with us pretty late in the game, our toughest non conference game is at Colorado State. Vanderbilt and Mizzou is our draw from the east this year. The hope is to get back to a bowl game this year and I think most reasonable expectations are hovering between 5-6 wins.
3. Do you expect a difficult transition from Bret Bielema’s power-based program to the up-tempo spread of Morris?
There are definitely times it’s going to be ugly, especially offensively. Morris’ offense relies a lot more on option concepts and Ty Storey and Cole Kelley were both not the smoothest at running those. There’s help coming in upcoming recruiting classes but for 2018 one of those two will likely be the guy.
In addition to that it will be interesting to see how the offensive line shakes out. At the end of the Bielema era, the offensive line was a disaster and was the root of most of his demise. If Morris can get that unit working cohesively it can cover up some of the other issues.
4. Any surprises or newcomers that made an impression this spring?
Early enrollee Mike Woods had an excellent spring at wide receiver. There is going to be a lot more focus on the wide outs and he brings a lot of speed to the position that really wasn’t there before. Maleek Williams is also looking to break into the running back rotation after redshirting last year. Right now it’s a running back by committee situation and he should get some short yardage opportunities with him being the most physical of the group.
5. What are your big concerns coming out of spring practice?
Quarterback play is going to be an issue whether it’s Storey or Kelley starting because neither were overly impressive during the spring game. Both are likely to get some time unless one makes a huge leap forward in the fall. Depth on the offensive and defensive lines are also a concern. If injuries hit the team as hard as they did last year the team is probably looking at another four-win season.