Arkansas’ strides in recruiting a ray of hope for football program

To say the least, Chad Morris’ first season as the Arkansas Razorbacks’ football coach didn’t to go the way either he or the fans wanted.

No coach ever expects a 2-10 season, and no fanbase will ever come out of a season that sorry feeling good about the program’s future. There is just too much uncertainty.

However, last week Razorbacks’ fans did get a strong sign that there is still life in the Razorback football program and hope for the future.

Despite Arkansas’ woeful finish on the gridiron last fall, Morris and his staff signed 21 players during last week’s early signing period, and by all accounts, it was at least a top 20 class that’s not complete yet.

Arkansas plans to sign six to eight more players for the 2019 signing class during the regular singing period which opens on Feb. 6.

Two of the Razorbacks best in-state recruits tight end Hudson Henry (6-5, 235) of Little Rock and wide receiver Treylon Burks (6-3, 217) of Warren are waiting until the late period to enjoy the event with friends and family.

Recruiting experts are already hailing this recruiting class the best Arkansas has signed during the recruiting-rankings period which began in 2002.

That is a tremendous improvement over last year, the first year with an early signing period, when Morris started behind the eight ball with only about two weeks to attempt to pull together a signing class during the early period. The Hogs signed only 10 players last December under those dire circumstances.

I mention last year’s meager early recruiting haul only to point out the strides that Morris and his staff made with a full year to work and beat the bushes. It was a tremendous leap when you consider how poorly the Razorbacks performed on the football field.

My hope is that we will see a similar jump in the level of coaching from Morris and his staff from his first to his second year.

The Razorbacks left from three to five winnable games on the table last fall. Improved coaching and decision making next year could make all the difference between the Razorbacks sitting home during bowl season for the third year in a row or possibly playing in a lower-tier bowl.

Morris erred by being too cautious at several points in the season. I hope he will be a little more daring in the future. With another year of coaching and developing the current Razorbacks and with the addition of young talent, maybe he will have more confidence in his team next year?

Confidence was in short supply among the Razorbacks last fall. In hindsight it’s easy to see there was not complete trust between the players and coaches. When doubt outweighs trust, there is no room for confidence.

Unfortunately, the Razorbacks will still be battling with a trust issue as they go into their off-season workouts. Maybe they can work through it during spring practices which begin Feb. 27 and during preseason workouts in the summer.

Trust and confidence will be gained as the players whom Morris and his staff personally recruited begin to filter into the program, but the only sure cure for a lack of trust and confidence is success on the football field. As the old saying goes, success breeds success.

When the players begin to see Morris’ philosophy and tactics work on the football field, their trust in the coaches and confidence in themselves will only grow.

For Morris’ system to work, he needs an athletic decision-maker at quarterback, one who can not only grasp the offense in his head but also make it go with his arm and feet.

Right now, Morris doesn’t have a player who has proven he can do that. That is why Arkansas is still in the market for a graduate-transfer quarterback who can be the bridge between red-shirt freshman Connor Noland (6-2, 207) of Greenwood or freshman K.J. Jefferson (6-3, 205) of Sardis, Miss., taking control off the offense.

Senior Ty Storey (6-2, 215) of Charleston isn’t totally out of the picture, particularly if the Razorbacks do not pick up a graduate-transfer quarterback, but his lack of arm strength and tendency to deliver the ball late are hurdles that are very difficult to get over. Despite the experience Storey gained as the Hogs’ starter for most of last season, I can’t see Morris going with him again unless it’s out of necessity.

On one hand, I like that Morris is still looking for a graduate transfer quarterback. It tells me how bad he wants to win next season.

However, the Hogs don’t need just any QB to fill that spot. If the candidate is not a difference-maker, who can truly increase the Razorbacks’ odds of having a winning season and gaining a bowl berth, then it might be better for the future if Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock to throw Noland and/or Jackson into the fire next season.

That way the Hog’s starting quarterback for Morris’ third season — one that could be a make-or-break year for the coach — will be a second-year starter.

Next season is going to be another tough one. I could see the Hogs squeaking into a bowl game, but then again a four- or five-win season looks a lot more likely.

If biting the bullet with a young quarterback next season sets the Razorbacks’ up for a better 2020, that might be the better way to go than taking a risk on a one-year wonder at QB.

That scholarship can be used to bring a four-year player on campus. That player could add depth at another position, if not next year then in the future.

Of course, Morris knows all of that better than I do. The fact that he’s still in the market for a graduate-transfer QB tells me there must be one out there whom he believes has the ability to possibly push the Hogs over the top next season.

If that is the case, go get him.