HOGS: touted recruits offer instant help

HOGS: touted recruits offer instant help

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FAYETTEVILLE - About every college head football coach said his football team improved with Wednesday’s start of the three-day early signing period.

Considering the Razorbacks he inherited just went 2-10, Arkansas coach Chad Morris could proclaim his team’s improvement with a polygraph-passing straight face.

Morris announced the signing of 20 players, 18 high school seniors and two junior college transfer offensive linemen, with more to come possibly in the next two days and certainly for the February 6 signing period.

“We got a lot better today as a football team and as a program,” Morris said. “We addressed a lot of needs that needed to be addressed. We’re not done. We’ve got a lot of work left but this was definitely a start in this early signing period as we signed 20 new members. We addressed a lot of deficiencies that we felt we had to address.”

Obviously deficiencies abound after the school's second winless  conference campaign (2013 the other), going 0-8 in the SEC.

The signees, 10 on offense and 10 on defense, include 14 listed as 4-star prospects by at least one of the major recruiting services. Alphabetically they are  defensive back Greg Brooks of Harvey, La., Wednesday’s most dramatic signee as his decision between Arkansas and Mississippi State weighed until the final day; defensive lineman Taurean Carter;  Mansfield, Texas; defensive back Malik Chavis, Rison; defensive lineman Collin Clay, Oklahoma City; junior college transfer offensive lineman Myron Cunningham; defensive lineman Eric Gregory; Memphis via IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.;  defensive lineman Enoch Jackson, Mansfield, Texas; wide receiver TQ Jackson, Jefferson, Texas; quarterback KJ Jefferson, Sardis, Miss.; wide receiver Trey Knox, Murfreesboro, Tenn.; offensive lineman Brady Latham, Jenks, Okla.; offensive lineman Beaux Limmer, Tyler, Texas;  defensive lineman Marcus Miller, Warren; wide receiver Shamar Nash, Memphis via IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. ;  junior college transfer offensive lineman Chibueze Nwanna, Hyattsville, Md,; offensive lineman Dylan Rathcke, Baton Rouge, La.; defensive lineman Mataio Soli, Douglasville, Ga.; offensive lineman Ricky Stromberg, Tulsa; defensive lineman Zach Williams, Little Rock Joe T. Robinson; and linebacker Zach Zimos, Richmond, Texas.

Receivers TQ Jackson, Knox, and Nash stand 6-4, 6-5 and 6-3, which elevates the receiving corps to a higher stature in Morris’ view.

Quarterback Jefferson was Player of the Year in Mississippi and joins a QB competition so wide open that Morris said he will evaluate graduate transfer possibilities.

“I love the ones we have,” Morris said. “But by the same sense, yeah, I anticipate bringing someone in, whether that be January, whether that be early summer or whenever that may be. But, we’ll see. We want the right fit.”

Offensive line numbers were so down from what Morris inherited from the previous Bret Bielema regime, and three senior starting offensive linemen graduated from 2018.

Noting that he hopes to not have to sign a half-dozen offensive linemen in one class again, Morris signed six offensive linemen. He also beefed up the defensive trenches by signing five defensive linemen.

In order of addressing, here is Morris discussing the needs and how this class can help fill them.
“Speed and size at wide receiver, depth in both the offensive and defensive lines, guys that could immediately come in here and make an impact,” Morris said. “Addressed guys that would come in January (eight will enroll on scholarship as December graduates eligible to participate in spring practice)  and affect our roster and create competition.  We addressed with a quarterback to create depth, the player of the year in his state, to come in and continue to build the depth at that position.”

Already graduated 2019 senior-to-be Ty Storey, the starter for nine games in 2018, redshirted freshmen Connor Noland, a starter one game but staying within the maximum four-game limit eligible to redshirt, John Stephen Jones, third-year sophomore to be squadman Daulton Hyatt and walk-on Jack Lindsey are expected to return at quarterback.

Jefferson will still be in high school this sprig when the others are practicing with the Razorbacks but still will be evaluated in the August as one who could play right away.

“KJ starts us off right there at the quarterback position,” Morris said. “Big kid, big 6-3, 215. He runs really well. Throws the ball exceptionally well. Comes from a winning program.”

Obviously juco transfers Cunningham, 6-6, 300 of Iowa Central Community College; and Nwanna, 6-7, 315 of Lackakwanna (Pa.) Community College were signed as prospects to provide immediate help in the offensive linemen.

Freshman offensive linemen generally redshirt because O-line play is so complicated mentally and the most challenging to develop physically.

However, given the state of Arkansas’ line, Morris rules nobody out among the incoming rookies. He seems determined that no position has a starter by default.

“I’m anticipating some of these guys playing, as well as the guys that were redshirted last year,” Morris said. “What this is going to allow us to do is create competition, and we need competition at every position. We didn’t have enough of that this year, and I think we’ve addressed that and we’re not through addressing it, either.”

Regarding Cunningham and Nwanna, Morris spoke in specifics.
On Nwanna, Morris said: “Comes in and immediately has the range and the skill set to compete and compete quickly — on the offensive line, a must need.”

Regarding Cunningham, Morris said: “A junior college All-American  he’ll able to step on the field and make a huge impact.”

Cunningham, Nwanna, Gregory, Knox, Nash, Brooks, Soli and Williams are the eight midterm graduates eligible to enroll at the UA in January.

Morris seems elated that Soli, a 6-4, 230-pound defensive end with 22.5 in 2018 sacks at Douglas County (Ga.) High and the son of former Razorbacks defensive lineman Junior Soli, will practice with the Hogs this spring.

“A fabulous football player,” Morris said. “This guy is absolutely dynamic. He was wanted by everybody in the country. We anticipate him to come in and be here in January and compete to play.”

Soli, Carter, Gregory, Enoch Jackson and Williams, the son of former Razorback linebacker Rickey  Williams, will get evaluated before the Aug. 31 season opener against Portland State. The 2018 defensive line graduates starters Armon Watts, T.J. Smith and Randy Ramsey and reserve Michael Taylor.

Brooks and Chavis were the only defensive backs, and Zimos the only linebacker and no tight ends or running backs signed Wednesday.

That will change Feb. 6.

Heralded tight end Hudson Henry of Pulaski Academy, the son of former Razorback center Mark Henry and brother of former Razorback Mackey Award winning tight end Hunter Henry and current UA outside linebacker Hayden Henry, running back A’Monta Spivey, Phenix City, Ala.; defensive backs Myles Brooks, Pflugerville, Texas; Adonis Otey, Murfreesboro, Tenn.; and Devin Bush, New Orleans; defensive end Dante Walker, Ellenwood, Ga.; and receiver Treylon Burks, Warren; have verbally committed to sign in February with Arkansas.

Geographically, Morris stated upon his December 2017 arrival from SMU that Arkansas’ national 1960s peak under Frank Broyles was stamped by recruiting footprint first in Arkansas, next in Texas and throughout the Tulsa and Memphis vicinities and Louisiana and into Missouri.

Other than from Missouri, Morris’ 20 December signees for 2019 reflect the footprint he coveted including five from Texas, the state Morris coached high school ball for 16 years.

2018 UA EARLY SIGNING CLASS
Greg Brooks DB 5-11, 178 Harvey (La.) West Jefferson
Taurean Carter DL 6-3 263 Mansfield (Texas) Legacy
Malik Chavis DB 6-2, 187 Rison
Collin Clay DL 6-5, 261 Oklahoma City Putnam City
Myron Cunningham OL 6-6, 300 Warren, Ohio Iowa Central JC
Eric Gregory DL 6-4, 270 Memphis (Tenn.) IMG Academy
Enoch Jackson DL 6-0, 290 Mansfield (Texas) Legacy
TQ Jackson WR 6-4, 195 Jefferson, Texas
KJ Jefferson QB 6-3, 211 Sardis, Miss.; North Panola
Trey Knox WR 6-5, 218 Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Brady Latham OL 6-5, 290 Jenks, Okla.
Beaux Limmer OL 6-5, 270 Tyler (Texas) Lee
Marcus Miller DL 6-5, 300 Warren
Shamar Nash WR 6-3, 194 Memphis (Tenn.) IMG Academy
Chibueze Nwanna OL 6-3, 315 Hyattsville, Md.
Dylan Rathcke OL 6-5, 290 Baton Rouge (La.) University Lab
Mataio Soli DL 6-4, 230 Douglasville (Ga.) Douglas County
Ricky Stromberg OL 6-4, 280 Tulsa, Okla. Union
Zach Williams DL 6-4, 235 Joe T. Robinson
Zach Zimos LB 6-4, 210 Richmond (Texas) Fort Bend Travis

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