Thursday, September 13, 2018
By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - Though coming off a bitter 34-27 loss last Saturday at Colorado State, Arkansas coach Chad Morris went into Wednesday's closed practice celebrating what transpired Tuesday.
Addressing media before Wednesday's practice, Morris said the Razorbacks responded far better in Tuesday's practice coming off defeat than their Tuesday practice coming off the Sept. 1 55-20 season-opening victory over Eastern Illinois.
Given their light workout Sunday and Monday's NCAA mandated off day, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the heaviest practices for the 1-1 Razorbacks, who start tapering today for Saturday's 3 p.m. game against the 2-0 North Texas Mean Green at Reynolds Razorback Stadium to be televised on the SEC Network Alternate Channel.
"Back on the field yesterday in pads and it was a really good day," Morris said. "I loved our focus, the energy level from when those guys walked out of that locker room even while stretch and flex. It was definitely on a different level. You felt a different vibe with this team. That's what you ask for."
And require, Morris said.
"I said it all week long. What you want to know is how are you going to respond when adversity happens," Morris said. "I thought we've learned a lot about our football team. Overall, yesterday I was pleased with the way they came out."
He compared the successive Tuesday practices as a "night and day difference."
"The guys were definitely locked in a lot more," Morris said. "That happens. Every time we've asked them to respond whether through (preseason) camp or spring ball where maybe we didn't come out and have the standard that we wanted to set they've always responded. Starting Sunday, they came out with a different edge. These kids care and they understand for this program to move forward, we’re gonna have to learn and sometimes you learn through hard times."
The hard times looked a little easier finally practicing with two complete scholarship offensive lines.
"Yesterday was our very first day since I’ve been here that we had 10 scholarship offensive linemen," Morris said of the position group hardest hit by injuries starting with incumbent left tackle Colton Jackson requiring back surgery in July. "To be able to have practice and be able to have that rotation, which was really encouraging and exciting to see."
Jackson, the fourth-year junior from Conway and two-year starter who has been unable to play so far, now has two completed full practices this week on the second unit and seems at least partially in the game plan.
"We’re anticipating Colton to possibly get in there and play a few series and see how it goes," Morris said. "He got in yesterday (Tuesday) full speed and full contact and did a great job. Just trying to get his legs back underneath him. That’s the biggest challenge for Colton right now."
Freshman Noah Gatlin of Jonesboro, who made his debut starting at left tackle against Colorado State, likely starts again against North Texas.
Redshirt freshman Shane Clenin, the starting left tackle against Eastern Illinois idled last week by a sprained ankle, practiced this week behind senior center Hjalte Froholdt.
Clenin variously has practiced at every offensive line position since the August preseason.
Senior starting weakside linebacker Dre Greenlaw, idled by a sprained ankle since his 10 tackles during the first quarter against Eastern Illinois, was in a green limited practice jersey Wednesday. Senior projected starting defensive end Randy Ramsey still has not played because of hamstring issues that occurred in mid-August.
However, Morris has not ruled either out of Saturday's game.
"We anticipate him (Ramsey) playing," Morris said. "He actually worked out yesterday and went through the entire practice and did some good things. Kinda working at a pace to get him back."
The Razorbacks have missed Ramsey on the pass rush though moving junior Sosa Agim from defensive tackle to defensive end helped against Colorado State.
Of Agim's four tackles coming off the edge, one was for a loss and he got credited with two quarterback hurries forcing incomplete passes and forced two fumbles and recovered one.
"You will see Sosa outside a lot more this week," Morris said. "You may see him slide in some, but more so on the edge."
Morris said he's not yet decided whether fourth-year junior Ty Storey or third-year sophomore Cole Kelley will start at quarterback.
Kelley started against Eastern Illinois, but Storey proved the better off the bench.
The roles and productivity reversed last week with Kelley having a big third quarter after Storey started, though Kelley and the offense didn't sustain while Arkansas' defense couldn't stop CSU's Rams during Arkansas' fourth-quarter fizzle in Fort Collins, Colo.
How did the two quarterbacks fare in Tuesday's practice?
"They were good," Morris said. "They got out here and competed. It's still a work in progress. You keep think one is going to separate above the other and it just hasn't happened. We'll continue to challenge them."
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