FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas coach Chad Morris spent his first two weeks on the job recruiting at a rapid pace. Or as Morris likes to say, “In the left lane with the hammer down.”
When college football’s first early signing period (Dec. 20-22) was over, things eased momentarily on the recruiting front. That allowed Morris time to evaluate his current roster. What he found was a need for more players who can be on-the-field versions of his favorite catchphrase.
“Speed, speed and more speed,” Morris said of his thoughts after assessing the team. “You either have it or you’re chasing it and you don’t want to chase speed too long. You won’t last long.”
What Morris surely noticed is the Hogs have far too often been chasing opponents in recent years. They allowed 20 plays of 40 or more yards in their 12 games last season and 26 such plays in 2016. Both seasons those numbers ranked among the worst in the FBS. That’s a clear indication of lacking overall speed across the board on defense.
Rebuilding for speed on that side of the ball is a process based around recruiting that will take some time. All the new staff can do at this point is make speed on defense a top priority when pursuing recruits, which they have done.
“A straight-line track guy is fast, but you put a pair of shoulder pads and helmet on him and maybe he’s not as fast,” Morris said. “We want football players that can get from here to that wall and make a tackle in space really quick. Like a hiccup.”
Offensively, Morris has more to work with in his aim to outrun opponents. Running back T.J. Hammonds averaged 9.7 yards per touch last season. Wide receivers Jordan Jones, who reportedly ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash in high school, and Jonathan Nance both ranked in the top 15 in among SEC pass catchers in receptions of at least 40 yards.
Put those players in an offensive system that produced 88 plays of 20 or more yards at SMU last season — which was eighth-best in the FBS — and it’s not unreasonable to think Arkansas could immediately start scoring in bunches.
But while the skill positions may not be desperate for speed, the offensive line could probably use an upgrade in that department. As it stands now, Arkansas’ line is built for a power-run offense that huddles regularly. That’s quite the opposite of what Morris will implement. As a result, becoming more fleet of foot in the trenches is a necessity.
“There’s a big misconception out there that you see movies and stuff that it’s a big fat guy playing offensive line,” offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said. “That’s not what we want. We want a guy that, he’s got to be big, but he’s got to be able to move.”
One thing Morris is very excited about with the current roster is its youth. The Hogs are projected to return a combined 20 players on offense and defense with previous starting experience.
“They played a lot of young guys [in recent seasons],” Morris said. “We’ve had a lot of our players back [for the spring semester], and a lot have swung through the office and met with the new staff. I guess the major voice that we’re hearing is hungry. They don’t want to be home again during Christmas. It hadn’t been quite the fun they thought it might be. It’s not fun watching bowl games when you’re not playing in them.”
In order to get back to practicing during Christmas time, Morris knows the Hogs need more speed. He intends to bring in just that while utilizing the speed he already has on campus to its full potential.