True freshman KJ Jefferson is the most physically gifted quarterback at the University of Arkansas. Based on high school accomplishments, reports from Hog coaches and a stunning debut against Mississippi State, the 6’3″, 228-pound dual-threat dynamo projects to be the Hogs’ best run-pass threat at the position since Matt Jones.
Last Saturday, as has become custom, Arkansas found itself down by an unsurmountable deficit in the second half against an SEC team. It didn’t matter that the opponent was “lowly” Mississippi State, or that the game was at home, or that it was homecoming.
The Hogs found themselves defective on defense and — outside of a great TD pass by John Stephen Johns, Rakeem Boyd and Treylon Burks — sputtering on offense again.
Then the moment Hog fans had been waiting for all season: Jefferson made his debut, entering the game early in the fourth quarter.
He didn’t disappoint.
On the first play from scrimmage, he kept the ball on a read-option and scampered for 21 yards. After a 17-yard run from Boyd on the following play, Jefferson found fellow freshman Treylon Burks down the sideline for a 32-yard gain. Jefferson finished the 75-yard 4-play drive off on the next play with a 5-yard touchdown run.
Below is the most impressive debut drive from a Razorback quarterback in recent UA history:
“I don’t have any regrets of not playing him early in the season,” Chad Morris said afterward. “I thought he played well today. We kept it as simple as possible with him. He did a really good job, he led us down the field. He had a good run and scored a touchdown. It was pretty impressive for your first drive.”
The production ended there. Jefferson finished the day 1-for-2 through the air for 32 yards, and the one completion was on an amazing catch by Burks. He also had two rushes for a total of 32 yards.
Still, he played with a mojo, confidence and power that none of the other quarterbacks have been able to muster against SEC competition. For a moment, it seemed like Cam Newton was wearing a Hogs uniform.
All this gives some Hogs fans a flicker of hope going forward. Some fans also see Jefferson’s successful debut — this late in the season — as more evidence that Morris should be fired.
“It’s a damning indictment of the entire staff that they can’t recognize talent when it’s there, and can’t coach up that talent if they do see it,” writes Arkansas Fight’s Tucker Partridge. “Every quarterback who gets the staff’s focus gets worse, so I’m almost fearful to see K.J. play any more under this administration.”
In K.J. Jefferson, the Hogs have a player who can both inspire the crowds and potentially recharge faith in the masses in Morris’ reputation as a “quarterback whisperer.” He also inspires the players.
“We were just as excited as the fans to see him,” linebacker De’Jon Harris said. “I told him before he went in to tune out the crowd because everyone is going to cheer for you, just settle down after your first drive and do what you do.”
Harris added: “He’s been giving us a great look all year basically. He’s just a dual threat quarterback that can do it both. Just going against him at scout team betters us and just prepares us for upcoming opponents. He showed flashes here and there. We never got to check and see his speed during practice.”
Receiver Mike Wood also talked about KJ Jefferson: “I think he did great. He came in and did what he could. We drove right down the field when he got in. I thought he took advantage of his opportunity. He has looked great in practice. He looked good out there today; the same way he has been looking in practice.”
The Hogs quarterback race is as wide open as it’s been all season — with only three games left. That’s crazy and, yes, a damning indictment of this coaching staff.
In the next game, against Western Kentucky, Jefferson will get an opportunity to build on his dazzling debut. While John Stephen Jones will get the start, Jefferson should step in at some point during the game as the top backup.
In the last two games, Jones has been effective. He completed 10 of 16 passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns, while running for 17 yards on eight carries. He and Jefferson have been splitting first-team reps all week.
Hogs offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said this week that the staff would likely see which quarterback is moving the ball best and turn it over to the hot hand.
“We’re still working through game-planning and all that,” Craddock said. “We’ll come up with a good plan to make sure they’re both comfortable with what we’re doing and making sure that they can execute the offense as a high level.”
Hopefully, if Jones is struggling, they won’t wait until the second half to turn the ball over to the talented KJ Jefferson.
What KJ Jefferson Most Needs to Improve To Achieve Greatness
The below published on October 8, 2019
Jefferson has so much promise. But not enough polish — so far.
Currently on fourth string behind third-stringer John Stephen Jones, Jefferson still plays a vital role on the Razorback team that is trying to upend the online football betting sites that predict it will remain in the SEC West cellar this season.
Until last week, Jefferson ran as the scout team quarterback against the first team and second defenses, something which will be even more important in the coming weeks against SEC defenses. The Hogs’ next foe Kentucky, for instance, will sometimes deploy a “Wildcat” offense with wide receiver speedster Lynn Bowden taking snaps at center.
Then, the following week, there’s Auburn’s freshman sensation Bo Nix, who’s already tallied 1125 passing yards, 191 rushing yards and one highly satisfying destruction of Gus Malzahn’s morale:
“He’s traveling with us for the majority of the time, sitting in our quarterback meetings,” Hogs head coach Chad Morris recently said of Jefferson. “He’s able to get some valuable scout team reps, which is good for him, and he’s taken on that role.”
Last week, Jefferson finally got to run some reps with other first and second-teasers on offense. Morris designed parts of practice to get his young players reps during the open week.
That allowed the Razorback coaching staff, especially offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, to gauge how far Jefferson has come since arriving on campus this summer — and far he needs to go to become a starting quarterback one day.
Already, he’s impressed the coaches.
“He did some really good things with his legs as well as sitting in the pocket and throwing the ball so he’s just got to continue to learn mentally,” Craddock said. “He’s a very sharp, smart kid. It’s just about doing it. He’s got to know it in the meeting room and take it out on the practice field and go do it and go execute it. So he’s getting closer with that. I felt last week was a really big step up for him. He had a good week.”
He just needs to tweak a few technical matters on top of gaining familiarity with teammates, before he’s ready to see the bright lights.
Here are the top two things KJ Jefferson needs to improve going forward:
- Footwork and posture
“A lot about playing quarterback is with your feet, Craddock said. “A lot of people have a big misunderstanding that people think it’s all about your upper body but it’s really about getting your feet in the position. If your feet are in the right place your hips are open and you are able to throw the ball, especially throwing the ball to your left and that’s some things he’s really worked on and we have worked on with him.”
“That’s what we’re harping on and slowing it down in the meeting room and pausing and slow mo-ing it and really showing it. He’s very smart and very cognizant of what we’re doing in drill work and any kind of footwork that we’re doing, he already knows what I’m going to say before I say it. So that tells me that he’s on the right track and really learning.”
Developing the right footwork will help Jefferson, especially when it comes to throwing to his left.
2. Delivery mechanics
Craddock said Jefferson also needs to tweak his throwing motion so that he can be a more efficient, accurate passer.
“Without getting into too much detail, there are just certain things where I think he needs to work on his posture in the pocket and getting the ball out a little quicker,” Craddock he added. “Sometimes he doesn’t point the ball back and really get the whipping action on the ball.”
At this point, it appears Jefferson will get the advantage of game-time reps and a redshirt year. “With seven games remaining in 2019, Jefferson could appear in up to four and maintain his redshirt because of an NCAA rule that went into effect last year,” Andrew Hutchinson wrote for HawgSports.com. “Arkansas took advantage of that in 2018, playing Connor Noland and Jones in four and three games, respectively.”
“KJ [Jefferson] is well ahead of where I thought he would be” – Chad Morris
The below was originally published on August 3, 2019
The Razorbacks’ first fall practice of 2019 is in the books, and head coach Chad Morris is very pleased. He says he’s never been around a group of new players who were as well prepared as this talented group of freshmen and transfers.
“We brought them in here to challenge and to push and to create competition, because we knew it would make everybody better,” he said. “For Day 1, you could see that. You could definitely tell this football team has worked extremely hard this summer on their own [with] player-led workouts” and meetings.”
“You could just feel the energy, you could just feel the excitement,” he said in a Friday night press conference. “That’s our challenge as a football team — to keep that attack mode of 100%, 100% of the time when they step across that red line.”
Here are some important takeaways from Morris’ press conference. (Excerpts have been edited for clarity.)
On the Razorback quarterbacks as a group:
Chad Morris: “I was very impressed. They were all working together, they were very accurate and communicating when something wasn’t right… I thought the ball jumped out of their hands extremely well. We pushed the ball downfield early in practice and challenged them in practice and in team settings to get some deep balls down the sidelines.”
On quarterbacks Nick Starkel and KJ Jefferson (this was the first team practice for both):
Chad Morris: “I was really pleased with KJ. You could tell he’s been working this summer, as has Nick, in grasping our install for the day. I thought it came very natural for KJ, especially on some of our zone reads.
Now there are some techniques and intricate details we got to get — same thing with Nick. [We need] to get Nick to understand what the answers are out on the edge if the ball is pulled but I was pleased with both of them.
I knew Nick would be ahead, but KJ is well ahead of where I thought he’d be — especially for Day 1.”
Check out KJ in action in the clip below:
On which Hog quarterback will start the season opener on August 31:
Chad Morris: “I think fall camp will work it out. We would love to have a guy in place sooner than later, but if we don’t, we don’t… We’re gonna have to have them all to be successful. From what I saw today, we’re going to have a great battle in front us. That position itself has elevated everybody.”
On star freshman Trey Knox:
Chad Morris: “We tell our guys all the time ‘When we recruit you, we want you to be you. If you wear a cowboy hat and a big buckle, come in here wearing a cowboy hat and a big belt buckle.’
“And Trey Knox, he smiles because he loves life. This guy truly loves everyday he wakes up. It’s not a front — he’s been smiling since the day he got here… and it’s contagious, because he gets everybody smiling.”
“He’s made some of those guys who may be on that second tier, he’s pushing them, he’s elevating them. Not just him, a lot of these young guys that are coming in are doing that.”
BTW, Morris wasn’t kidding about Trey’s love of the cowboy hat. He performed some Garth Brooks for Razorback fans in July.
To see Morris’ press conference, check the video below. Morris talks about:
-McTelvin Agim’s adjustment to tackle at 3:20
-Jonathan Marshall as the strongest player on the football team at 4:10
-Noah Gatlin going down with an injury 3/4 the way through practice at 6:25
-On whether it’s easier this year because there is more “buy in” in Year 2 of the Chad Morris era at 7:50.
-On his desire to see a few 100-degree days in a row to help push the players at 12:55
-On the increased skill and depth at offensive line at 14:15
Finally, just so everybody knows this isn’t just one big Kool-Aid fest going down in Fayetteville right now, Morris reminds fans that “fall camp’s long, and everybody’s an All-American when you’re just in shorts.”
“But when those pads come on and you’re about Day 9 of camp, you’ll find out a lot about people.”
See KJ Jefferson, Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel fling the ball around with an accuracy that will make Hog fans smile here: