1. Overall, how would you say spring practices went for Arkansas?
It’s a little tough to say, just because you’re only seeing what coaches allow—the full playbook isn’t opened up, obviously, and we had quite a few injuries to key players who will have the most playing time this year, so we didn’t get to see any unit at full strength. In terms of what we could determine, I think there will be a true quarterback this year. I know this is a non-answer, but because Nick Starkel wasn’t here in spring, it’s hard to say who it will be. If you were to ask me today, I think Ben Hicks has the job, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Nick Starkel ends up playing more. Knowing the offense from his time at SMU is what gives Hicks the edge right now.
2. Chad Morris had a rough first year. How much optimism is there coming back?
It was a rough year, to be sure. At the very end of the season, morale was at what I think is the all time lowest I’ve ever seen it, but I think Coach Morris and the staff really built a lot of good faith by doing so well recruiting. This is the highest-rated class in Arkansas history, which is a big deal, at least to us, and that has brought some more optimism there. I think any new season brings inherent optimism though, and most people expect us to win more games this year. Whether that’s three wins or twelve wins though, nobody knows (we’re not winning twelve).
3. Morris made his bones on offense. That side of the ball show any progress this spring?
As I alluded to earlier, having a true quarterback is going to be a really big deal. Everything we hear says that the offense is tough to learn, so having Hicks as an experienced Morris disciple is going to help a lot. We also have added a lot to the offensive line, and to the wide receiving corp — two groups that struggled tremendously last year. After seeing an offensive line be serviceable this spring, you’ve gotta think we’ll be able to pull more plays together on offense.
4. Defensively, some strong vets return in Dejon Harris and McTelvin Agim. Do you see that side of the ball improving?
This side of the ball definitely won the Spring. Defense is always ahead of offense when spring practice starts, simply because they’re practicing schemes, and not the minutiae of complicated plays. Apparently, despite this early advantage, defense looked the best no matter the situation, as they tended to win the friendly competitions against the offense most days. Having healthy bodies, depth on the defensive line from recruiting, and another year under John Chavis should see observable improvement.
5. Is Morris under any pressure already, or do people understanding of the rebuild?
It depends on who you ask. I don’t think he’s under any threat of being fired by our athletic director or board of trustees, but another year like last year won’t buy him any good faith with the fans. I think most people understand that a rebuild takes time, but seeing a historic losing season shot a lot of confidence. I personally still believe Morris can get it done, but admit that it’s going to be two or three years before we’re anywhere close to his plan coming to fruition. I think Arkansas fans are largely just tired of being hurt, and will buy in as soon as it seems that things are looking brighter. Whatever pressure he may feel will be gone if there’s any signs of improvement this year.