FAYETTEVILLE -- Chad Morris has been head football coach for the Arkansas Razorbacks for eight months, but he has not led his team onto the field for competition at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
He will today.
The University of Arkansas will conduct its first full-scale scrimmage of camp today inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium before a crowd of parents and special guests. The media are barred from the workout.
The Razorbacks did not have access to the stadium during spring drills due to the ongoing construction on the north end zone expansion.
"I told our guys a couple of days ago that Saturday's scrimmage would be in the stadium, and they were excited," Morris said. "They see what's going on.
"I mean, they're driving down the road seeing everything kind of coming together. Just a lot of excitement. Change of venue, something that's always good for these guys, especially in a scrimmage."
Today's work will come 21 days before the Razorbacks open the season against Eastern Illinois at the stadium. Arkansas will conduct another major scrimmage Aug. 18 and will have certain periods with live tackling interspersed in workouts between now and the opener.
"It's definitely time to show it," defensive back D'Vone McClure said.
"I know there'll be a point in time in camp where we've got to back out of some live situations, but the only way you get better at tackling is you've got to tackle," Morris said. "You've got to go live."
After a light day Friday, the Razorbacks approach practice No. 8 of camp with battles still brewing at several key positions.
"Saturday's going to be big for a lot of us because it's gamelike," sophomore tailback Chase Hayden said.
"Coaches make decisions based off of that," senior defensive tackle Armon Watts said. "We've got a lot of guys competing for a spot, so you can't afford to have bad days. That's how I look at it."
The quarterback battle will get a great deal of scrutiny.
Junior Ty Storey and sophomore Cole Kelley have taken the majority of reps available to the media with the top two units, but freshmen Daulton Hyatt, Connor Noland and John Stephen Jones also have gotten time with the veteran groups.
Morris stressed the top factor he's looking at in differentiating between the top signal caller and his backups.
"We have to continue to be consistent," he said. "Obviously, coaches being off the field and more of a game setting that we can possibly have, even though we'll script eight straight plays and see how they respond, how they lead their team, how they encourage guys.
"I think that's a possibility that could happen Saturday, some of it. But we'll wait and see on that. It's all about getting in that stadium and seeing how these guys respond."
The offensive line will be a focal point because it has been hit by injuries and movement. The lengthy recovery from back surgery for starting left tackle Colton Jackson has given redshirt freshman Dalton Wagner, true freshman Noah Gatlin and others looks at that spot.
Back issues that sidelined first-team center Dylan Hays this week have thrust veteran left guard Hjalte Froholdt to the middle of the line and opened up an opportunity for Shane Clenin and Kirby Adcock. The right side of the line, guard Johnny Gibson and tackle Brian Wallace, has stayed consistent through camp. Gibson's expected competition with Jalen Merrick didn't materialize because Merrick has been sidelined after experiencing headache issues in the summer.
"We need to make sure people can play different positions and more spots, and everybody can just go out there and do the job that gets assigned to them," Gibson said.
The Razorbacks look solid and deep at both running back and tight end, with a mix of veterans and younger talent.
Devwah Whaley looks quicker in the lead tailback role after an offseason of trimming body fat, while T.J. Hammonds, Hayden, freshman Maleek Williams and transfer Rakeem Boyd all have assets that should come into play.
"They're going to get a lot of reps," Morris said.
Tight end Cheyenne O'Grady said the reps should be competitive today.
"Based on how today went, we had big fun," O'Grady said Wednesday. "Back and forth with the defense, we were going at it."
The sorting of a deep receiver group will continue, with older players such as Jared Cornelius, Jonathan Nance, La'Michael Pettway and Jordan Jones leading the way. Morris on Thursday singled out Jones for making huge strides in confidence and knowledge of the schemes.
Building depth for a defense that returns starters on the line (McTelvin Agim, T.J. Smith, Randy Ramsey), linebacker (Dre Greenlaw, De'Jon Harris) and secondary (Santos Ramirez, Ryan Pulley, Kamren Curl and the injured Kevin Richardson) is critical for new coordinator John Chavis.
"Everybody is really excited for [the scrimmage], but we're going to take it one day at a time," sophomore linebacker Grant Morgan said Wednesday.
Agim, a junior defensive lineman who has been taking more reps inside in periods open to the media, will work at both end and tackle in the scrimmage, Morris said.
A week ago there was no guarantee the Razorbacks would have access to the Razorback Stadium playing surface, but UA officials had crews putting in work down the stretch to make it happen.
Justin Maland, UA associate athletic director for facilities, said the staff wanted to accommodate Morris' request to have the stadium ready by today.
"It's all based on making sure we feel it's safe," Maland said at the start of camp. "We want to make sure it's in good shape and ready for him.
"The good thing is most of the work and the storage and roadway is basically from the [north] end zone back. So from a performance standpoint, we're not necessarily concerned about the field itself."
Shaw Sports Turf, the contractor hired to replace the turf inside Walker Pavilion this summer, also assisted with prepping the surface at Razorback Stadium for its final season before the changeover to a grass field.
The undertaking on the north end zone also led to changes for the field, including rolling back sections of turf, having some sections removed and stored, and other areas left in place.
Heavy trucks had to roll in to the stadium through a south end zone tunnel and across the east sideline to work in the Broyles Athletic Center construction area.
Maland said the turf undergoes grooming, cleaning and rigorous testing.
"We have actually invested in a piece of equipment that decompacts and grooms and everything else, which a lot of people don't necessarily have the resources to do," Maland said. "We're going to do that because of the sensitivity."
Sports on 08/11/2018
Print Headline: Hogs happy to play on home field in scrimmage