Quarterback competition keeps Razorback fans guessing

The two major questions I have about the Arkansas Razorbacks’ offense going into the season are intertwined. Unfortunately, based on what first-year head coach Chad Morris said last week during SEC Football Media Days, neither question has an answer at this moment.

The first question is on every Hog fans’ mind: Who is going to be the starting quarterback?

Who that ends up being will have a tremendous bearing on my second question, which is how close will the Razorbacks get to executing all the bells and whistles of Morris’ version of the Spread offense this season?

In a perfect world, the transition from Bielema’s Pro-style offense to Morris’ Spread would be minimal. It would be fantastic if by Sept. 1 for the season opener against Eastern Illinois, the Hogs would be in the left lane with the hammer down and rolling.

Maybe they will be? However, that’s probably not going to be the case.

Every Razorback offensive player has been in the midst of making a fairly extreme adjustment since Morris took over the program. The conditioning is more demanding, the speed of the game is amped up, the mental processing has to be at a faster pace, as does the actual physical execution.

And now there is little to no time to rest and assess between plays.

As a fan these changes are exciting, but also a little frightening.

Those of us old enough to remember the season opener in 2006 when Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense made its debut on the college level with Robert Johnson under center understand the fear.

It was three downs and out all night long, and Arkansas’ defense was worn out by halftime.

Granted, the Hogs were playing a loaded Southern Cal squad. Arkansas won’t see a team in that class until the fourth game of the season when the Razorbacks visit Auburn on Sept. 22, but offensive execution has to be a primary concern until we actually see it happen in a game.

When a hurry-up, no-huddle offense isn’t making first downs and scoring, it puts tremendous stress on a defense. Field position and complementary play are out the window. Rest between series for a defense can be fleeting to nearly non-existent.

Even if Morris knew who his quarterback was going to be, those would be worries of mine going into this season, but with the most important position up in the air, my level of concern goes from apprehensive to frightened.

Arkansas can use its first three playing dates against Eastern Illinois, Colorado State, and North Texas as tune-up games, but each one is a game the Razorbacks need to win to have a good shot at garnering a bowl bid and having a winning season.

One thing that does allay my concerns to a degree is that Morris is abundantly proud of his roots in high school coaching. While every high school coach has a philosophy, if he wants to be a consistent winner, he has to adapt to the talent on hand.

While Morris is building and recruiting to his philosophy, he has said that he will adapt his offense to the strengths of his starting quarterback and the team in general.

With a mostly veteran albeit underachieving offensive line and a strong stable of running backs, we could see the Hogs rely more on the running game than Morris did at SMU.

Then again, maybe not. It’s difficult to know when we don’t know who the quarterback will be. Even when that is learned, fans won’t know what the quarterback and the offense is good at until several games into the season.

After spring drills, Morris and his offensive coordinator Joe Craddock characterized the quarterback race as basically tied with junior Ty Storey (6-2, 220) as 1A and sophomore Cole Kelley (6-7, 263) as 1B. Redshirt freshman Dalton Hyatt (6-4, 192) is behind them. Freshmen Connor Noland (6-2, 205) and John Stephen Jones (5-11, 185) joined the team in June, and sophomore walk-on Jack Lindsey (6-2, 198) is also in the quarterback room.

Storey seemed to grasp the decision-making better than Kelley, but Kelley has a rocket-powered arm.

Kelley has more playing experience than Storey. As a redshirt freshmen, he quarterbacked one-point, come-back victories at Ole Miss and Coastal Carolina.

Kelley also was arrested for DWI on Nov. 12, 2017, the night after the Hogs’ lost 33-10 at LSU.

That slate may have been wiped clean with the change in coaching staff, but the arrest does speak to Kelley’s decision-making process. Craddock also said that Kelley needed to lose some weight to be as effective as possible in Arkansas’ new hurry-up, no-huddle scheme.

When speaking about the quarterback situation last week as SEC Media Days, Morris said every quarterback that has excelled in his system made strides from spring practice until the opening of preseason camp through film study, conditioning, and leading their teammates in summer workouts that coaches are unable to attend.

Morris said he has gotten reports from his quarterbacks and about his quarterbacks and is eager to see them perform when practice begins in just 11 days on Aug. 3.

My guess is that Morris and Craddock have a strong idea who will be the starter on Sept. 1. Morris has reasons for keeping the competition open through the summer. Had he named a starer in the spring, there is a strong likelihood that either Storey or Kelley would have transferred out, and the program needs them both.

If all the quarterbacks stay healthy in preseason camp, my guess is that Kelley will be the starter against Eastern Illinois.

Despite Noland and Stephens being solid prospects, it would speak poorly on Arkansas’ program for a true freshman to rise to the starting quarterback spot without an injury being involved.

That being said, Morris has said he will play the players who give the Hogs the best chance to win regardless of seniority.

Morris also said he would likely name a starter after 10 practice days in camp. So maybe we’ll hear something around Aug. 10-13.