Talent, depth gives Morris options at running back

The more you hear Chad Morris, it seems there is more to like.

Two recent developments that have impressed me were learning that he is not only coaching his players on the finer points of his football philosophy, but he has also held a recent seminar of sorts of how young men should respect and treat women.

If you’ve read national sports headlines in recent years, you know domestic abuse has been a major issue in professional and college football. It’s not something that can be brushed under the rug like it sometimes was in the past. As a University of Arkansas graduate and a Razorback fan, I’m glad Morris and his staff took a proactive stance and addressed the subject with the players and offered training and education.

The sports writer in me doesn’t really like the rule that freshmen and other players who have not played in a game before are off limits to the media. Some of those players are going to contribute this season. They could be in on a game-winning play. Fans are going to want to hear what they have to say about certain plays.

Then again as a fan, I kind of like it. Yeah, I’d like know more about the freshmen players who might contribute this year, but I also like that a coach is establishing a pecking order among the players who have produced and contributed on the field, and the ones that haven’t.

So often as fans, we want to put the cart before the horse, and make a hero out of a young player before he’s ever experienced college football himself. That’s still going to happen to a degree, but maybe the expectations of the fans and players won’t get as out of whack if there is less attention on the newcomers than on the players who have already earned the Hog on their helmets.

That being said the first thing that pleased me about Morris was back in December when he described his offense as a run-oriented, two-back, play-action, shot offense. I realize I’m an old guy, and my taste in football is probably older than my age, but I love the running game.

Despite him playing for Texas, Earl Campbell remains my favorite running back with John Riggins right behind him. If you are too young to know those names, look up some of their highlights on YouTube. They were fun to watch.

My favorite offenses are the Wishbone and the Veer. I love to watch quarterbacks that are good ball handlers and who carry out fakes well. Those intricacies of the position do so much to cause just a enough confusion in the defense when executed well to help set up plays.

I am looking forward to seeing how Morris and offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Joe Craddock school their signal callers on ball-handling, which is key in any offense where play-action passing is a component.

I’m guessing there will be a good deal of misdirection built into the Hogs’ running game, much like Gus Malzahn uses at Auburn. One hopes Morris shows some of the out-of-the-box creativity that worked so well for the Razorbacks in 2006 when Malzahn was offensive coordinator.

I’m looking forward to seeing Arkansas’ quarterbacks execute Morris’ Run-Pass Option series, which has the quarterback read keys for where the ball is supposed to go. It’s not the same reads for the Wishbone, but the basic concept is similar.

I imagine Morris’ offense will have varied splits for his offensive lineman to spread out the defense and to isolate mismatches.

While I have no problem with ground-and-pound football, if a team doesn’t have some road graders up front, that tight-split blocking formation just grinds to a halt like we saw often the last two seasons where there was little to no daylight for Arkansas’ backs to run to.

When I hear the term two-back, my mind instantly thinks of a fullback and a tailback, but it seems backs in Morris offense will operate more like a single back and a flanker working in the slot. If a fullback is called for, it appears Arkansas’ tight ends will be filling the lead blocker role.

The Razorbacks are well-stocked at running back, and each of the backs have different running styles and skills sets that should keep things interesting as Craddock calls plays.

Devwah Whaley (5-11, 209) and Maleek Williams (5-11, 223) are more traditional backs, with Whaley being a more shifty operator, while Williams assaults defense with more power. With wider splits by the linemen creating running allies, I can envision either one breaking arm tackles at the line of scrimmage from out-of-position tacklers.

Chase Hayden (5-10, 200) and T.J. Hammonds (5-10, 205) also have power with compact body types, but bring quickness and allusiveness to the table that must have Morris and Craddock licking their chops.

Hayden had developed into the Razorbacks’ most effective back in 2017 as a freshmen before an injury curtailed his season. Hammonds has had flashes in his first two seasons with the Hogs, but Bret Bielema’s staff struggled to get him on the field as much as fans wanted. Maybe Morris won’t have that issue.

I expect all four of those guys to be pass-catching threats out of the backfield.

The wild card in the backfield is sophomore Rakeem Boyd, a junior college transfer who started his career at Texas A&M before ending up at Independence (Kan.) Community College, where he rushed for 1,211 yards and 14 touchdowns in 10 games. His 2017 junior college team is featured in the Netflix streaming series Last Chance U, and he shows up considerably in the later episodes.

Boyd (6-0, 200) appears to have the talent to help the Razorbacks. It’s just a matter of how quickly he catches on to the offense. Running back is a position where talent can make up for a lack of experience.

With the physical nature of the SEC and the tempo the Razorbacks will likely play at this season, all five could find roles in Morris’ offense. It will be interesting to watch the substitution pattern Morris will use with the running backs. If the Hogs are operating fast in the no-huddle, there is little time to substitute by design.

I’m excited to see how all the gears grind in Morris’ offense, and with the quarterback situation unsettled, it’s good that Arkansas appears to have the potential of a solid running game to take the press off whoever wins the starting QB job.