When it comes to quarterback, Arkansas head coach Chad Morris is in a much better position than he was last year around this time. Last year, the top choices for the most important position on the field were Cole Kelley and Ty Storey, two guys who weren’t comfortable with Morris’ schemes and weren’t recruited for his system.
This year, Arkansas has welcomed two quarterbacks who are much better fits for the offensive system Morris is building. After starring at SMU, Ben Hicks has more college experience and more experience in former SMU coach Chad Morris’ system. Nick Starkel has less experience, and less familiarity with Morris’ system, but has more talent, more arm strength and far more deep, enduring bro-love for Justin Bieber.
Today, Chad Morris named Ben Hicks as his starter for the season opener against Portland State.
Hicks joined the Razorbacks in the spring and led the Hogs through spring drills after a stellar career at SMU, where he played for Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock. Hicks left SMU as the school’s all-time leader in passing yards (9,081), total offense (8,977), TD passes (71), TDs responsible for (74), completions (718) and 300-yard games (12).
Arkansas opens the second year of the Morris era at 3 p.m. on SEC Network against the small college FCS Vikings. Crazily enough, the major betting site Oddshark predicts Portland State will win the game despite the fact no team from its conference has ever beaten an SEC team.
Starkel played well in fall camp, too, but arrived later onto the UA campus than Hicks, who transferred from SMU this January. Starkel only arrived in May.
Coming out of spring practice, then, it was no surprise Ben Hicks was the presumptive starter. Things haven’t changed. “If we played tonight, that’s who it would be,” Chad Morris said in July at SEC Media Days. “He knows the offense, he’s been in it.”
“To be able to break Ben in, in January was huge,” Morris added, speaking to Buzz 103.7 FM. “Huge for this football team. Huge for the quarterback room. It allowed [backup quarterback] John Stephen Jones to continue to develop. He got so many reps in the spring and excited about where he is right now. But then to to add a guy that, Ben’s going to be gone in December.”
Starkel, meanwhile, has two more years of eligibility as a grad transfer.
While Hicks has shown the most leadership so far, Morris anticipates Starkel will close the gap. “When you really get to know Nick and you see his leadership and you watch him interact with all the players offensively and defensively, as all our quarterbacks do, it’s special. It’ll be interesting. It’ll be a great battle, this fall camp.”
“I knew Nick when he was in high school. I recruited him and so I knew one, just the ability of the ball to, how it jumps out of his hand. His decision making and as a quarterback, that’s what you look for. Guys that can process, then they can make decisions and they’re accurate with the football. And Nick did all of those.”-Chad Morris on Nick Starkel
Below are more excerpts from Chad Morris’ SEC Media Days talks with the Buzz 103.7 FM’s David Bazzel, Randy Rainwater and the rest of the crew:
On standout freshman wide receiver Trey Knox:
Chad Morris: “Trey got on the scene [early enrolling] in January. We knew he was a phenomenal football player while we were recruiting the young man, the number wide receiver out of the state of Tennessee and to be able to get him over to our place. Going back to recruiting, we had to get bigger. We had to get faster at the wide receiver position and Trey met both of those.”
His strengths are his “ball skills. His ability to contort his body in so many different directions. I think you saw some of that in the spring game, but a young man that’s going to step on the field, that’s going to play. He’s had a great winter conditioning and summer, and so this is a guy that you’re going to hear his name for several years to come.”
On expected group of the Hogs’ offensive line:
Chad Morris: “One of the main reasons why we went out and signed a heavy O-line, D-line class, this is a line of scrimmage league. We knew we had some quality players in our defensive line interior wise coming back, but we had to add to it. We had to address our offensive line. David, we played with eight scholarship offensive linemen all year. So the ability for Coach [Dustin] Fry having to cross train so many guys, it was tough.
“To be able to have options coming into fall camp, we’re going to bring in 17 guys in fall camp, somewhere around that. I think that’ll give us options and give us an opportunity to establish. I think we got better as the spring went. We got an idea of who our five to six guys that we’re really honing in on. The addition of Myron Cunningham was huge….”
On why all that “Hammer Down” stuff isn’t heard as much these days:
Chad Morris: “Hammer down is still part of our culture and who we are — all six letters mean something — that’s always who are. But every year the motto changes… and this year the motto has been the word ‘every.’”
“Every day counts on the last day of your life. We returned back 235 days ago right after that Missouri game — every day counts on the last day of this next season. What we do on February the 6th really does matter in what December the 6th looks like. You’ll hear a lot of that today, and you’ll see that through the course of our winter conditioning.”
“These young men are ready to get back out on the field and get rid of the bad taste of the last season. While there was improvement happening, and I’ve said this since that season ended, there was improvement. There was things, success happening and inside the walls of the Fred Smith Center and inside the walls of the football program. That outside world that didn’t get a chance to see it. I’ve been through this before and that has to happen.”
Listen to the Buzz 103.7 interview with Chad Morris in its entirety below. He talks about why Sosa Agim carries around a Chucky Doll and, at the 7:44 mark, discusses how long his team will wear the circa 2007 McFadden-era jerseys