Chad Morris opens his first spring practice as Arkansas’ coach on Thursday, and given the depressing nature of the past year, Hogs fans – and, presumably, Hogs players – are ready to see the team get back on the field.
With the new staff will come changes in philosophy on both sides of the ball, and many fans are eager to see what kind of changes will be made on the depth chart, which young guys can make an impact and who will get lost in the shuffle. The slate has been wiped clean, and the defense, especially, seems due for a shakeup.
The good: The running backs. The group looks to stacked with talent for Morris and coordinator Joe Craddock. The Hogs have game-breakers in T.J. Hammonds, Devwah Whaley and Chase Hayden. This is going to create plenty of competition, which can only be good news for consistency at this position. There’s also sophomore Maleek Williams, and JC transfer Rakeem Boyd arrives this summer to add even more competition. This spring will be important to determine a pecking order, of sorts, among the backs in the new offense.
The bad: The line. The line needs to get better – and get better fast. It’s been no secret this unit has struggled the past few seasons, and hopefully the faster pace of play will help them become more consistent. A lot of linemen return, but they will need to adjust to the new scheme. The only for-sure starter would seem to be senior G Hjalte Froholdt.
Newcomer to watch: ATH Maleek Barkley. Barkley, a redshirt freshman from Austin, Texas, is a guy who could really excite fans in Morris’ offense. We’re cheating with his position because he can play running back and receiver. He has speed and playmaking ability, but just got caught up in the numbers game at receiver last season. He has the skill set to thrive in Morris’ system in a variety of ways; he also could be used on special teams. He had more than 4,600 yards from scrimmage in three high school seasons at perennial power Austin Lake Travis.
Veteran on the spot: WR Brandon Martin. He didn’t see much time until the second half of last season, starting twice but finishing the year with just nine receptions. There is a lot of incoming talent at wide receiver and Martin can’t afford to fall behind. He has good size (6 feet 4, 219 pounds) and is talented; this spring, he needs to show that talent and prove he can be an important part of the new offense. His size offers intriguing possibilities in the red zone.
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