Chad Morris / Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer
An uncertain season for the Arkansas Razorbacks became even more so Monday when head coach Chad Morris announced two projected starters had suffered injuries prior to preseason practice even starting.
Junior Colton Jackson, who closed spring practice as the starting left offensive tackle, had back surgery two weeks ago. The Conway product will likely miss six games or half the regular season. Jackson, who has started 13 games in his Razorback career, redshirted as a freshman. If he is unable to play in more than four games this season, there is a possibility of him receiving a medical hardship to restore this season, but that is something that would be looked into later by the program.
Senior nickel back Kevin Richardson injured his foot Sunday in an accident while moving furniture that required surgery on Monday. The Jacksonville native will be out six weeks, but should be full speed by the time the Razorbacks open their SEC season Sept. 22 in Arlington, Texas, against Texas A&M.
Freshman offensive lineman Ryan Winkel of Memphis is also unable to practice after injuring a pectoral muscle in a workout on his first day on campus. He will likely redshirt.
All of that is bad news for a thin Razorback football team that will likely suffer other injuries in preseason camp and throughout the season. That’s just football.
Based on the offenses run by most of Arkansas’ opponents, Richardson would be on the field most of the time, as the Hogs would shift out of their 4-3 base to a 4-2-5 to cover Spread offenses. Richardson is also a team leader being voted a captain last season before missing most of the season with an injury.
Jackson was also in position to take a leadership role on the offensive line if not with the entire offense.
How much impact will it have on this team?
There is no real way to know, but all you have to do is look back to last season and look at the impact of losing quarterback Austin Allen, receiver Jared Cornelius, running back Rawleigh Williams, offensive lineman Frank Ragnow, cornerback Ryan Pulley and Richardson for significant time.
You can’t say for certain the Razorbacks would have won more than four games if those players hadn’t have been sidelined, but it’s reasonable to assume Arkansas would have been in better position to win.
At nickel back, it will be a sophomore show until Richardson returns with Hayden Henry, Derrick Munson, and D’Vone McClure vying for playing time.
It’s not good for any player to miss preseason camp, but if any player can afford to do it, it is a veteran like Richardson, who is conscientious and dedicated as the day is long. Getting more reps in practice Munson, McClure, and Henry might even work in the Razorbacks’ favor if you want to dig for a silver lining in a bad situation.
However, it will be interesting to see how things shake out at left tackle for the Razorbacks, and how offensive line coach Dustin Fry handles the situation. Would he move starting right guard Johnny Gibson, a junior from Dumas to that spot, or will he trust a redshirt freshman like 6-9 Dalton Wagner of Spring Grove, Ill. or 6-6 Shane Clenin from Festus, Mo.?
Evidently Wagner is going to get the first shot, but that left tackle spot is going to be a position to watch throughout camp and into the early games of the season.
In last year’s press guide, Wagner was listed at 311 pounds when he reported to the Razorbacks in January of 2011. Wagner had trimmed down to 275 pounds when Morris and his staff met him in January, but Trumain Carroll, Arkansas’ strength and conditioning coach, reports that Wagner has rebuilt his long frame back up to 309 pounds after seven months in the weight room.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Morris and his staff handles this injury obstacle. It’s the first bit of adversity for his program and practice, which begins Friday.
The best football teams are usually player-led. Based on how the Razorbacks last two seasons under Bret Bielema spiraled out of control, it may be incumbent on Morris and his position coaches to provide more of the direction and set the tone for the team.
Arkansas’ attitude as a team was not good last season for whatever reason, and it will be difficult for the Razorbacks to find much success this season if there isn’t a hard change.
One of the most exciting things Morris has said in the preseason is that he sees hungry eyes and hearts when he sees his team, and that he’s positive this group of players don’t want to travel down another 4-8 road this season.
Razorbacks teams have to play hungry, relentless, and tough. It’s the only way to survive as an underdog in a league like the SEC, and whether right or wrong, the Razorbacks have been judged to be at the bottom of the barrel in the league right alongside Vanderbilt from the Eastern Division.
So far, I like the positive, hard-working, and energetic style of Morris and his staff. Their relentless work as recruiters has paid off with a recent thunderstorm of four-star commitments, and that leads me to believe they will attack the coaching on the field with as much gusto.
The future seems to be looking up for Arkansas because the only way to build a better team is with better recruits. However, no coach likes to walk into a season knowing their starting left offensive tackle and nickel back are injured before the first hit of practice has been made.