The great Razorback quarterback debate of 2019 continues.
Chad Morris has said he won’t announce the starting quarterback until next week. The frontrunners include Ben Hicks, Nick Starkel and John Stephen Jones. As well as Jones as been playing in practice, it’s hard to believe the 5’11” sophomore would actually get the starting nod (though if any 5’11” assumed third-stringer who barely played the year has a shot, it would be the grandson of Jerry Jones).
Chances are, it’s going to be Starkel or Hicks. Starkel admits Hicks had a head start on him heading into the summer due to Hicks’ familiarity with the playbook, but that he’s been catching up. “He’s been in the offense, and he knows it,” Starkel said this week. “And I feel like I know it. I’ve been learning this offense since May, and so Coach is teaching me the offense,”
“We got coaches here for a reason, but it is good to have another person who has been on the field and can kind of give you a little bit of the in’s and out’s. I think in the offseason, it’s always good to have someone that you’re competing against the whole time. But during the season, I think you got to have that confidence as a starter and not have to worry week-to-week.”
He added: “I’ve seen it both ways, though. I want to be a coach one day, and as a player, I just feel like I have more confidence whenever it’s not a [situation where] you don’t know if you’re starting until the day before the game every week.”
So, what would give Nick Starkel more confidence for his chances at landing that starting quarterback job — whether that be next week or, perhaps, after Hicks falters in an early season game?
Heading into fall camp, “I felt like I needed to work on my timing and my footwork, mainly my foot placement,” he said. “Being able to go from handing the ball off to, if I pull it, being able to pull up and have my feet set already to throw. That’s been the biggest thing for me, is really just footwork and knowing where to put my feet, how to not get stepped on by the running back when they’re taking their tracks. I think I’ve done a good job progressing in that so far through camp.”
Here are some excerpts from Starkel’s press conference:
On how the quarterbacks split first team reps in practice:
Nick Starkel: “Every day’s been different. You know, [Hicks] will go with them Monday, I’ll go Tuesday, he’s Wednesday, I’m Thursday, just everyday we’ve been switching the whole camp.”
On what it’s been like practicing with a wide receiver corps that has lately resembled a M.A.S.H. unit:
“We’re still doing split fields and so you can definitely sense the guys are a little more tired, not having as many pure numbers out there. But we have guys stepping up, making plays left and right from TQ [Jackson] to Treylon Burks to Trey Knox, Mike Woods, De’Vion [Warren], all those guys, they’re really stepping up. It’s great to see them, the older guys, bring those younger guys up and say, ‘Hey look, it’s your time now.’ So that’s really encouraging.”
On whether he thinks run game or passing game is practicing better:
“I’m a quarterback, so I’m going to say we’re better at passing. But obviously we have two, three, four or five really good running backs that can make some plays for us, and so I think that we’re going to be a pretty balanced team. We’re going to definitely have those threats that we can throw the ball down the field with, and we’ll be able to run the ball as well.”
More on throwing 50-yard rainmakers to the likes of Burks and Knox:
“We’re installing those plays, can’t give too much away but we’re definitely going to be forcing the ball down the field. Not forcing the ball, we’re going to be throwing the ball down the field this year, we got guys that are going to go up and makes the plays as well. “
On the offensive line, especially in light of injuries to the likes of Noah Gatlin (ACL tear):
“Offensive line has definitely picked it up. They had a little chip on their shoulder going into fall camp, and they knew that was an area that they could step up, especially pass protection. And they have definitely answered that call to action. They’ve been terrific in these scrimmages, giving us enough time to throw the ball. And I see that going well into the season.”
Arkansas’ first game
Arkansas begins its season against the wee, West Coast men of Portland State at 3 pm on August 31. In theory, this is a game that Hogs could lose, considering some betting outlets have actually tabbed them as underdogs. In reality, they have the same chance of losing as you would have finding a Jonathan Luigs jersey framed and hanging on the wall of a Maylasia casino.
It’s not gonna happen. Not with how hungry that Hogs are to crush someone after a long offseason of stewing over the worst season in modern program history.
But Nick Starkel was a good sport and gave a scouting report ahead of Arkansas-Portland State anyway:
“They run a whole bunch of stuff, lot of untraditional stuff, Bear fronts. You guys probably don’t know what that means. But yeah, they run a Bear front, a lot of man coverage, so we’re looking to throw the ball a lot that game.”
The intrepid Arkansas reporters then asked what a bear front was.
Future coach Starkel replied: “A Bear front is where the center and the two guards are covered, and then there’s stand-up or true ends on the outside so it’s a five-man front. Pretty much big on big, and they’re playing man behind it. So you know what they’re doing every time.”
If that last line doesn’t equal a recipe for a future loss, I don’t know what does.