5 biggest concerns I have about Arkansas in 2019
The Arkansas Razorbacks are undergoing a big-time rebuild. Last year, they went 2-10 in Chad Morris’ first year as the head coach.
Heading into 2019, there are still a lot of questions that need answered, and it’ll be important to find answers, because fans aren’t going to be happy with another 2-10 season or even a 3-9 or 4-8 campaign.
At SEC Media Days last month, media members picked the Hogs to finish last in the SEC West once again. So, how can the Razorbacks compete for a bowl berth, at the very least?
They can start by addressing these 5 concerns I have entering the 2019 season:
1. What will the receiving corps look like?
Last year’s receiving corps was nothing to write home about, but you still like to see at least a little bit of continuity from one year to another. Instead, the Hogs lost their leading receiver, La’Michael Pettway, and also lost Jonathan Nance to transfer early last season.
Still, they have TE CJ O’Grady and WR Michael Woods returning. They were 2 of the Hogs’ 3 receivers to go over 200 yards in 2018. Beyond them, though, it’s an open competition for playing time. Freshmen likely will contribute greatly, with 5 4-star pass catchers entering the mix.
Trey Knox is drawing great early reviews. TE Hudson Henry figures to make an impact, as do WRs Treylon Burks, Shamar Nash and TQ Jackson. The competition this fall should be fierce, which only bodes well for Morris’ offense.
Still, not having a single receiver eclipse 500 yards last year is one of the biggest areas of concern entering 2019.
2. Will the Hogs value familiarity or longevity in the QB battle?
A lot of eyes are on the QB battle at Auburn and Mississippi State. However, the Hogs may have the most interesting quarterback competition in the SEC, with grad transfers Nick Starkel and Ben Hicks battling it out.
Morris coached Hicks at SMU, so Hicks has familiarity with the Arkansas coach’s system. But, he only has 1 year of eligibility remaining, while Starkel has 2. That’s an interesting conundrum for Morris.
If both look good this spring and neither separates himself from the other, Morris will be faced with a choice — does he go with the familiarity and trust he has in Hicks, or does he prioritize the growth that Starkel could undergo with 2 years in Morris’ system? That question will potentially define the next 2 seasons in Fayetteville.
3. Can Arkansas make game-changing plays on special teams?
Arkansas didn’t return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown in 2018. The Razorbacks returned only 9 punts all year (an SEC low), for a grand total of 91 yards. They fared a little better on kickoff returns, averaging 23 yards per return (good for 4th in the conference).
Return touchdowns are one of the quickest ways to change momentum in a game. The Hogs weren’t able to do that in 2018 and it hurt them. WR Deon Stewart enters fall camp as the likely punt returner and 1 of the 2 kickoff returners, along with WR De’Vion Warren.
They handled the returns last year, so they’ll need to show a bit more explosiveness if they don’t want to be potentially edged out by some of the talented freshman receivers joining the squad.
4. Who will step up along the offensive line?
The Razorbacks lost 3 key pieces along the offensive line, including center Hjalte Froholdt. Brian Wallace and Johnny Gibson are also gone. Ty Clary, who played left guard last season, is projected to slide over to center. Elsewhere, Shane Clenin is the only lineman who received significant starting experience in 2018.
A couple of backups are expected to step into starting roles — guys like Dalton Wagner, Austin Capps and Colton Johnson, in particular. They got reps last year, but it’ll be interesting to see how Morris shapes the line.
With 3 solid running backs — Rakeem Boyd, Devwah Whaley and Chase Hayden — returning this fall, the Hogs will need some guys to open holes up front. Watching how the offensive line unit progresses will be a huge storyline this fall.
5. Can this team pressure the quarterback at all?
The Hogs recorded only 26 sacks in 2018 — and not many are returning. DL McTelvin Agim (4.5) and LB De’Jon Harris (2.0) are the only returning players who recorded multiple sacks last season.
The Razorbacks landed mostly offensive talent among the 11 4-star players in their 2019 class, but they did bring in a pair of 4-star defensive ends — Collin Clay and Mataio Soli. If either of those guys is able to play significant snaps this fall, the Hogs’ defense will majorly benefit from it. However, for now, it seems as if this team is going to have some issues rushing the passer.