FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — There is always one guy. There is the guy who jumps out of nowhere to be a player for coach Bret Bielema and Arkansas in the fall.
It’s like that at every school, really, but often, those guys are redshirt freshmen.
They’re easy to forget about, those second-year guys who didn’t play in Year 1. The latest class of freshmen receive most of the ink. But it’s the second-year freshmen who have done the hard time.
Arkansas has 22 of them on the roster in spring camp. This doesn’t look at all 22, but we glance at half of them. These 11 have the greatest chance to make an impact when the season starts in late August in Little Rock.
Deon Edwards and Micahh Smith — safeties
Deon Edwards is a touch bigger at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds to Micahh Smith’s 6-0 and 200 pounds. But they still could go free safety or strong safety. Now they’re running basically tied for fourth on the depth chart.
Josh Liddell, Santos Ramirez and De’Andre Coley have those first 3 spots somewhat easily now. Edwards and Smith are the next 2 in line. And given the issues the safety spot had last season, some impressive play might move them up.
Dee Walker, Giovanni LaFrance, Grant Morgan — linebackers
If you were to put them in a hierarchy, it would go Dee Walker, Grant Morgan, Giovanni LaFrance. In that order. All are inside guys for now, though Walker has some potential on the edge.
He and LaFrance are the scholarship players, but some difficulty adjusting to college ball and an arm injury have slid LaFrance back a bit. Walker is in good shape to roll with, at least, the second team. And Morgan, the walk-on, seems to be earning respect on that second team, too. Seems like there was another Morgan who did that about 4 years ago, huh?
Briston Guidry and Jonathan Marshall — defensive line
Briston Guidry would have been an excellent 3-technique body in Arkansas’ old 4-man front. That’s scrapped, though, for the 3-4. In it, he’s a tweener. He could add bulk and play the middle or become leaner and play the exterior. Hard to say which is coming sooner, but lean to the outside what with Bijhon Jackson and Austin Capps experienced inside.
It’s a bit unclear where Jonathan Marshall fits. He is only receiving third-team reps in the spring. But at 6-4, 300 pounds, he seems to fit better on the inside.
Jordan Jones and Kofi Boateng — wide receivers
Jordan Jones is the biggest hit among the redshirt freshmen in camp. He’s had some second-team run and has looked the part. Jones is a speedster who hasn’t dropped a ball and looks like he’s bulked his 184-pound frame. Expect him in the rotation this fall, barring something strange.
Kofi Boateng is working his way back from a torn right ACL he suffered before the season last August. He was a redshirt candidate last season, but the missed time has left him a step back. Give it a year, probably.
Jake Heinrich, offensive line
Jake Heinrich could fight for a second-team job. Most likely he’s a tackle, but on Kurt Anderson’s offensive line, he seems to prefer guys who can swap in and out positionally. Hard to say where Heinrich’s future is because a lot of times steady offensive linemen don’t jump out immediately.
Cole Kelley, quarterback
Everyone’s biggest curiosity. Kelley has not yet wrested the backup job from incumbent Ty Storey. Austin Allen is entrenched as the starter, and it seemed that if Allen went down with a serious injury last season, Bielema would’ve pulled the redshirt off Kelley and rolled with him.
But for as great an arm as he has, Kelley doesn’t always use it, Bielema said. And the decision-making needs to come along, too. His coach compared him with Brett Favre — the good and the bad that comes with that.