Split-field workouts speeding up Hogs development

The college football season is barreling ever closer for the Arkansas Razorbacks and their fans, and excitement is building.

The Hogs have made it through two weeks of preseason camp, but the hay is not yet in the barn for head coach Chad Morris and his second Razorback squad.

Scrimmages are planned for Saturday and Wednesday before Morris and his staff break the team down into varsity and scout squads.

While neither scrimmage is scheduled to go as long as last week’s 170-plus play marathon, the fact that Morris is willing to go live three times says a lot about the toughness and physicality he and his staff are attempting to instill in their football team.

In the last 20 years, depth has become such a concern in college football that some coaches have stopped at just two live scrimmages to keep players healthy. They want “everybody on the bus” for that first game.

It’s a good thought, and for a squad full of juniors and seniors, it might be the prudent course of action, but Morris’ Razorbacks are overall a young squad, and those players need to be developed, tested, and trained with live blocking and tackling, and as a fan it’s good to hear that the Hogs’ head coach isn’t afraid to strain his players in that manner. The Hogs need that physical work, and they will be better for it not only this season but later in their careers.

Much has been written and said about the Razorbacks using both of their practice fields at the same time to increase the repetitions of plays for all the Razorbacks from the first to the fourth teams.

The first- and third-team Razorbacks run plays on one field, while the second- and fourth-teamers go on the other. The Hogs can do this because Morris and his staff recruited a larger number than usual number of offensive and defensive lineman last season.

Morris said Wednesday that after one unit runs a play, it barely has enough time to hit the sideline for a shot of water before being back up again.

While the results aren’t fully in, it seems like a masterstroke of an idea by Morris, particularly for a team as young as these Razorbacks.

De’Jon Harris, McTelvin Agim and Kamren Curl were named to the 2019 Preseason Coaches All-SEC Team / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

One of the most inefficient aspects of football is the amount of standing around in practice that is the norm during team drills, and in most cases the players left standing around the most are the ones who could most use the work.

In full team drills, only 22 are working at any one moment with the other 88 or so players just watching. By working two fields simultaneously, Morris has doubled the amount of players improving their skills at any one moment.

Coming out of training camp more players should be ready to contribute and likely be better conditioned and as a result mentally tougher than before. The dividends for doubling the practice action should payoff at every level of the team.

Just from watching the video of players working and being interviewed that available from a number of sources on the internet, it is easy to see already that this is a much more confident and cohesive Razorback team than we have seen in a number of years. The players just exude a confidence that we haven’t seen in awhile.

Morris has been cultivating that attitude since the players returned to classes and team workouts with Arkansas’ strength and conditioning staff in January; however, allowing all the players to be more active each day in preseason drills has to benefit each players attitude.

As a player, there’s nothing more demoralizing than just standing around and not getting much work in practice. Even if he’s working with the fourth team in Morris’ two-field practice system, a player has the opportunity to improve and hopefully progress up the pecking order.

The only immediate drawback in working two fields is that the coaching staff is split, but that is mitigated to a degree by the film work coaches already do from practice. I imagine it also gives Arkansas’ graduate assistant coaches even more of an opportunity to impact the team.

Once game-week preparations begins, the Razorbacks will likely fall back into a more traditional mode of training with the starters and second-team getting the bulk of the work.

I’d imagine scout teams will be formulated quickly after Wednesday’s scrimmage, and around that time fans will likely get a more concrete answer on exactly who the starting quarterback for the Aug. 31 season opener against Portland State will be.

The Razorbacks will host Fan Day from 3-6:30 p.m. in Razorback Stadium on Aug. 24. The first hour will allow fans to get a sneak peek of the Hogs during their mock game.

There might be some thudding, but doubtfully any live hitting. The event will will give those that attend a chance to familiarize themselves with the squad and memorizing numbers. At 4:30 p.m. the squad and coaches will sign autographs in the Walker Practice Facility.

A week later, the season begins. I’m already excited and looking forward to seeing what Year 2 of the Morris era of Razorback football has to offer.