If you’re like me, this is the time of year when I have to remind myself of names and numbers of Razorback football players.
It comes back fairly quickly, but it was a lot easier in the old days when practices were fully open. Watch a couple of days of practice, and you’d memorize the names and numbers of two-deep charts without even trying. Heck, back then a week into preseason camp, I could identify most of the starters just by the way they walked.
When Danny Ford coached the Hogs from 1993-97, the way he spoke about individual players – or actually the way he didn’t – could lead one to believe that members of the media knew the players’ names better than he did.
That wasn’t true. Ford sometimes liked to play the country bumpkin, somewhat like Andy Griffith on his classic TV shows, but Ford was keenly intelligent and cared greatly about his players.
However, Ford rarely called his “young people” by name. He often used their numbers or their hometowns for designation when mentioning players. I’m not sure if that is something he picked up from his college coach Bear Bryant at Alabama, or if it was unique to him, but it seemed he liked stressing the team or the unit over the player.
It seemed backwards to me in the 1990s, and it would be even more so today.
Calling a player by name and even challenging a player to a degree in front of the media is something that first-year Arkansas coach Chad Morris does not mind doing.
On several occasions Monday while giving a position-by-position run down of his Razorbacks before his media golf tournament, Morris issued challenges to players, saying that they have been on the team long enough that now is the time for them to make something happen.
Morris mentioned offensive lineman Jalen Merrick, tight end Cheyenne O’Grady, defensive linemen Jamario Bell and Briston Guidry, and wide receiver La’Michael Pettway by name, asking them to “step forward” and consistently be players that their talent and skill should allow them to be.
There is no doubt that each of those players have heard that message before from their position coach and from Morris, but by saying it in public, Morris set a goal for them to live up to and also expressed his confidence that they can do it.
Hopefully those players notice and hopefully it provides powerful incentive for them to be the players they have the capability to be.
I’ve also noticed when Morris mentions the quarterbacks, he purposefully includes Ty Storey first. That could be because he’s the Hogs’ best quarterback at the moment, or it could be in deference to the junior’s seniority, or a number of other reasons I can’t think of.
But, it also could be to push Cole Kelley’s button, and make the strong-armed sophomore compete even harder to overtake Storey for the starting spot.
The stronger the competition for that spot, the better off the Razorbacks will be. It will be interesting to see how long the competition will go. Morris has said there is no timetable, but the quicker a single player can make that separation whether it is Storey, Kelley, Daulton Hyatt, Connor Noland, John Stephen Jones, or Jack Lindsey, the better.
The Hogs have major scrimmages scheduled Aug. 11 and Aug. 18, with a final scrimmage the first week of classes at the UA on Aug. 22 that tentatively will be open to fans and students.
It would be best for the team if Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock can make a determination after the Aug. 11 scrimmage. It just gives a new starting quarterback in a new system more time to get acquainted with the offense and for other players to get more acquainted with the QB. But it needs to be the right decision.
The only thing worse for the offense and the team than to enter the season with the quarterback situation unsettled would be for them to make a poor first choice.
You’d have to go back to 2006 when Robert Johnson started the season opener again Southern Cal because of a summertime injury to Casey Dick to find such an uncertain picture at quarterback for the Razorbacks. The next game Johnson was replaced by freshman Mitch Mustain, who was later supplanted by Dick.
Prior to that in 2001, Coach Houston Nutt deployed five different players at quarterback in the 14-10, season-opening win over UNLV.
Zak Clark, current Springdale High head coach, went on to start most if not all of the rest of the year, but by mid-October Matt Jones was splitting time with him in a two-quarterback system that worked surprisingly well for a team that started off so poorly offensively.
Sometimes a coach just has to go with his gut and make a call on the starter when he feels it is time.
Frank Broyles, who coached the Hogs from 1958-76, said his indecision about whom to start at quarterback in 1963 kept a talented team from reaching its potential for a 5-5 season. Injuries forced him to juggle quarterbacks in 1974 and yielded a similar 6-4-1 result.
Both squads missed out on bowl trips, but rebounded for two of the best seasons in Razorback history. The 1964 squad, which was dominated by seniors who underachieved as juniors, went undefeated and won Arkansas’ lone football national title. The 1975 Hogs made Arkansas’ first trip to the Cotton Bowl in a decade as the SWC trio-champions where they put a 31-10 whipping on Georgia.
Before the final game of the 1963 season, Broyles named Fred Marshall the starter for the 1964 season because of his leadership and toughness, even though he had better passers as options.
In 1975, Broyles also went with a great leader in Scott Bull, but injuries played a role in that decision.
All that said, like every other Hog fan, I’m looking forward to Morris calling the Hog’s name who is going to start at quarterback this season.
I’m partial to Kelley because of his experience and arm strength, but am excited to support whichever player wins the job.