Hogs: Greenwood's Morgan stars in scrimmage tailored for passing game
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas receivers coach Michael Smith caught media by surprise last week when he said sophomore Drew Morgan practiced better than any Razorbacks receiver during the first five closed practices.
Saturday's scrimmage at Reynolds Razorback Stadium opened media eyes that Smith's assessment of the 2012 Farm Bureau Awards 7A/6A Offensive Player of the Year was understated. Greenwood coach Rick Jones called Morgan the most versatile athlete he's coached in 35 years.
Hog HC BRET BIELEMA
The unheralded Greenwood native, without a catch with few thrown to him last season, put exclamation points Saturday on his coach's praise with six receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Junior starting quarterback Brandon Allen (12 of 22 for 191 yards and two TDs) and Morgan connected for a 38-yard strike down the right side early in Saturday's situational scrimmage that pitted the first-team offense vs. No. 1 defense, and the reserve offenses and defenses against their opposites.
Snagging passes over the middle and on the sideline on varied routes and distances, Morgan caught 16- and 10-yard TDs from Brandon Allen and he caught offerings from backup quarterback Austin Allen, the redshirt freshman and brother of Brandon.
"I thought Drew Morgan stood out on the offensive side of the ball," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, the lone Razorbacks post-scrimmage spokesman, said Saturday.
Bielema said Morgan's value to "B.A." as Bielema calls Brandon Allen, may have stood out most when Morgan suffered heat cramps late in the scrimmage.
"I bet if you walked in the locker room right now B.A. would say, 'How's 80?" Bielema said referring to Morgan by number. "Make sure 80 is OK.' I don't know if two weeks ago if he would've had that trust and concern."
Brandon Allen has drawn Bielema's praise through summer conditioning into the preseason practices. That continued Saturday.
"Brandon Allen was the guy today that we have seen all camp," Bielema said. "Very confident, very in control."
Bielema said he liked watching Allen giving his offense pats on the back and liked that he "jumped" sophomore All-SEC second-team tight end Hunter Henry for dropping a pass.
Henry responded by catching the next two thrown his way to total 40 receiving yards.
Junior Keon Hatcher, the first-team receiver but running with the second group, caught three passes for 65 yards, including one despite being closely covered. Bielema ordered Morgan, senior Demetrius Wilson, freshman Jared Cornelius and JC transfer Cody Hollister alternate at the first-team receiver spots. Austin Allen completed 16 of 20 for 190 yards while true freshman Rafe Peavey completed seven of 10 for 44 yards.
"Keon Hatcher has really responded," Bielema said. "He made a great play today. I think we've got five very, very good wide receivers. A definite increase from where we were depth-wise from a year ago."
Arkansas' dilemma of finding enough footballs for its three great running backs was unfortunately too easily solved Saturday.
Alex Collins, the 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year with 1,026 yards rushing, didn't scrimmage because he "tweaked" a groin muscle in Friday's practice, Bielema said.
Junior Jonathan Williams, a 900-yard rusher last year, logged four carries for 18 yards Saturday and injured a hamstring on his fourth carry.
Neither Collins nor Williams ails seriously, Bielema said, adding that also goes for freshman defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado and freshman defensive back Santos Ramirez, who were held out Saturday.
Korliss Marshall, the Osceola sophomore speedster moved from safety to running back last season, led rushers with eight carries for 28 yards in a situational scrimmage geared more toward the passing game.
Along the offensive line, Bielema hinted there could be depth chart realignment coming, upgrading the status of newcomer second-team guards Cameron Jefferson, the senior transfer from UNLV, and JC transfer Sebastian Tretola. Bielema wants Tretola about 20 pounds down to 350 by the Aug. 30 season opener against SEC champion Auburn in Auburn, Ala.
On defense, junior backup safety Sleepy McKinney of Forrest City and senior cornerback Carroll Washington each forced fumbles that senior defensive end Trey Flowers and freshman linebacker Randy Ramsey recovered.
Ramsey of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., stood out with six tackles including three for minus-22 yards with two sacks. Ramsey logged some first-team time after senior starting linebacker Braylon Mitchell overheated as did starting defensive tackle DeMarcus Hodge.
Cornerback Henre Tolliver, safety Josh Liddell of Pine Bluff Dollarway, and linebacker Dwayne Eugene are all true freshmen who logged second-team and even some first-team defensive time Saturday as did JC transfer middle linebacker Josh Williams.
Senior safety Alan Turner of Junction City, junior safety Rohan Gaines, sophomore cornerback Kirk Collins, freshman cornerback Kevin Richardson of Jacksonville and Liddell all broke up passes during the scrimmage.
"Defensively we were creating turnovers," said Bielema, whose patience with offensive ball-handling got exhausted into a brief halt to practice and lecture. "Obviously I want to have better ball security on offense. We talked about and we only had one mishap after that. So that shows that a point of emphasis does carry through."
Bielema devoted Saturday's two-a-day to a night session on the kicking game.