Razorbacks remain an unknown quantity a week before kickoff

As Razorback fans, we don’t really have a clue how Chad Morris’ tenure as the Arkansas’ head football coach is going to work out. We don’t.

It might be great, it might be bad, or it might just be average.

Time will certainly tell, but from way outside looking in, I like the way he handles his business one week away from the first game of the season. From what we’ve seen of his decision making, it seems on point.

I liked the decision by Morris and his staff to move Austin Capps (6-4, 311) from defensive to offensive line when injuries left the numbers short. At some point this season, Capps probably could have helped the defensive line, but at the time of his move, he had not practiced in the spring or in preseason camp within defensive coordinator John “Chief” Chavis’ system.

Physically, Capps would have been starting fresh on defense. Moving him to offense didn’t stunt his development as a player, and it didn’t disrupt anything Chavis and defensive line coach John Scott Jr. had going, either.

It was a smart and prudent move given the circumstances. It’s just one example of Morris’ decision making process, but those are the type of moves and decisions a head coach has to make all the time, and Morris showed wisdom with that one.

As for Capps, we don’t know how the move will eventually turn out, but two admittedly old-time examples of Razorback defensive linemen excelling after being moved to offense are Steve Korte (1978-82) and Freddie Childress (1985-88).

Both earned All-American honors after making the move in the 1980s. Korte had a seven-year NFL career with the New Orleans Saints. Childress played two season in the NFL before going on to an all-star, 12-year career in the Canadian Football League.

It’s difficult to say going into the Sept. 1 season opener against Eastern Illinois exactly where Morris’ Razorbacks stand. We know the world outside Arkansas believes the Razorbacks are going to be just as bad or maybe even worse than they were a year ago when they went 1-7 in SEC play and 4-8 overall.

Perhaps the best move Morris has made as Arkansas’ coach was one of his first — hiring Chavis as his defensive coordinator. Some Hog fans felt the bloom had come off the rose to a degree with Chavis because Texas A&M’s defensive numbers weren’t outstanding during his three-year tenure there as defensive coordinator.

However, Chavis’ vast SEC experience at Tennessee, LSU, and A&M was something Morris needed on his staff as it moved up from SMU into the premiere conference in college football.

Again, we have no clue what type of defense the Razorbacks will have this season, but just from television interviews and quotes in stories, one feels a greater sense of confidence and purpose among the defensive players than in the past two seasons.

I like how Chavis and defensive line coaches Steve Caldwell and Scott Jr. are using McTelvin “Sosa” Agim inside and outside. It’s somewhat similar to how former Arkansas defensive coordinator Don Lindsey deployed Billy Ray Smith Jr. in his blitz-happy defense in 1981 and ‘82.

Smith had a solid nine-year NFL career with the San Diego Chargers, but he was one of the best players in the nation for the Razorbacks as a two-time consensus All-American and 2000 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Smith excelled with his quickness as an under-sized nose guard and tackle as a freshman and sophomore, but absolutely exploded as a defensive end, who Lindsey moved inside and out to put pressure on the quarterback.

It sounds like Chavis is going to deploy Agim in a somewhat similar fashion for the Razorbacks this year, although Agim will probably have his hand in the dirt more than Smith did his final two seasons with the Hogs. Moving Agim around to keep him out of double teams and to keep the offense guessing seems like a good plan, as long as the defense can be sound when doing so.

The Hogs are picked dead last in the SEC West, and some have the Razorbacks rated last in the SEC period. Much of that assessment is based on how the Hogs played last season. The rest is based on the unknown.

Since the spring, the media has seen precious little practice. Twenty minutes a day. It’s enough time to get a taste, but that’s it. Fans who aren’t former Razorback players or high school football coaches have been shut out completely.

When the veil of secrecy is lifted at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 1, we don’t have much of a clue what we are going to get.

When making an assessment of the unknown, don’t expect the media to give a team like Arkansas, which struggled last season and who has a new coach, the benefit of the doubt when making projections for the upcoming season.

In the age of social media, few pundits, columnist, or reporters are going to stick their neck out on a hunch because the backlash from an outlandish prediction will haunt them. As we’ve learned, nothing ever written or said vanishes in the ether, and something as silly as a college football prediction can be used to impugn one’s credibility.

What little I’ve heard through the grapevine is that there is cautious optimism about the Razorbacks this season within the program, and that former coach Bret Bielema didn’t leave the cupboard nearly as bare as what most thought after a truly dismal 2017 season that was marred by injuries and spiraled out of control when it became fairly clear Bielema would not be retained in early October.

That said Bielema did not take the injury bug with him when he departed Fayetteville. Though there have been few injuries that have sidelined players for the entire season, nagging injuries have been problematic across the board. It’s difficult to build the consistency Morris wants when key players are unable to practice.

Injuries are always the biggest variable in a season for a program like Arkansas’. With their best 22 on the field, the Razorbacks would be a much better football team. How much that will happen this season — if it will at all — is uncertain.

One thing in Arkansas’ favor is that the schedule ascends slowly in the first fourth of the season. While victory isn’t a guarantee in any game, Arkansas’ first three games against Eastern Illinois, at Colorado State, and against North Texas are about as manageable as a schedule can get before entering a SEC meat grinder.

I know the Colorado State game is on the road, and this is the first year for Morris at Arkansas, but it’s hard for me to imagine the Razorbacks not being 3-0 when they head to No. 9 Auburn for their Sept. 22 game with the Tigers. Then the true season begins for the Hogs.

But as far as the Hogs go, we are all imagining how good or bad they might be because no one outside the program has seen enough of them to make anything close to a accurate estimated guess about how the Razorbacks will perform before this season.