Arkansas football: Analyzing the Razorbacks’ projected starting lineup
Coach Chad Morris is entering Year 2 at Arkansas, and fans are expecting to see some improvement. After going 2-10 last season, the Hogs will be expected to double that win total, if not compete for a bowl berth.
Is that realistic? Do the Hogs have the depth and talent to make a big leap?
Let’s dive into the Arkansas depth chart and see what Morris and DC John Chavis are dealing with as fall camp wears on and Week 1 approaches:
QB: Ben Hicks or Nick Starkel
RB: Rakeem Boyd
RB: Devwah Whaley
Herein lies the biggest question this preseason — who will win the starting quarterback job? Morris brought in 2 graduate transfers to compete for the starting spot. Hicks spent time with Morris at SMU, so that seems to give him a leg up, but Starkel has 2 years of eligibility remaining, as opposed to Hicks’s year.
I’m leaning toward Hicks getting the job and Starkel waiting a year, but we’ll see who performs best in camp. Meanwhile, in the backfield, Boyd seems poised for a big year. He has some nice backup in Whaley and Chase Hayden, but this should be Boyd’s show.
After running for 734 yards in 2018 while starting only 8 games, Boyd has 1,000-yard potential in 2019. With Hicks or Starkel keeping defenses honest, whoever lines up in the backfield should have more room to run this fall.
LT: Colton Jackson
LG: Austin Capps
C: Ty Clary
RG: Shane Clenin
RT: Dalton Wagner
The Hogs lost 3 starters — Hjalte Froholdt, Brian Wallace and Johnny Gibson. That’s a lot to replace, but there are some upperclassmen ready to fill in. Ty Clary started at left guard last year, but is moving over to center to fill a need there.
The big weakness is depth, as the Hogs lost Noah Gatlin to a reported ACL tear over the weekend. If the starters listed above don’t stay healthy, things could go south in a hurry up front. That will have major implications for the quarterback and rushing attack.
Wide receivers/tight end
WR: Trey Knox
WR: Treylon Burks
WR: Michael Woods
TE: CJ O’Grady
O’Grady, with all of 400 yards, is somehow the team’s leading returning receiver. It’s not like the Hogs graduated a ton of talent, either. Leading receiver La’Michael Pettway only had 499 yards in 2018. He is now at Iowa State, though.
Unless Deon Stewart and Michael Woods can take major steps forward, this receiving corps will rely heavily on the touted freshmen and O’Grady. There’s plenty of potential there, and everyone loves Knox, it seems, so this could quickly turn into a strength of the offense.
DE: Dorian Gerald
DT: McTelvin Agim
DT: T.J. Smith
DE: Gabe Richardson
There should be plenty of competition for those defensive end spots, but for now, we’ll give the edge to the pair of rising seniors. Gerald had 21 tackles last year and Richardson had 13, with neither recording a sack.
Agim moves inside to help replace Armon Watts, but now the Hogs need those defensive ends to step up. The Hogs had 26 sacks in 2018, but 18 came from guys no longer on the roster. There will be plenty of opportunities for freshmen to earn playing time, so we’ll see who shines this fall and get those spots.
OLB: Bumper Pool
ILB: De’Jon Harris
OLB: Hayden Henry
Harris returns as a valued leader of the defense and is the SEC’s leading returning tackler. He’s one of the best inside linebackers in the game, but he’ll need some less-experienced guys to step up in the absence of Dre Greenlaw, who is now with the San Francisco 49ers.
Bumper Pool might be on the all-name team, but he’ll need to do more than that after recording 29 tackles in 2018. Morris raved about his potential at Media Days. Hayden Henry had 24 takedowns, so that’s not a lot of experience returning alongside Harris. Both are talented, though, so Chavis has every reason to believe he can get more from the younger linebackers.
CB: Montaric Brown
S: Kamren Curl
S: Joe Foucha
CB: Jarques McClellion
Without Santos Ramirez and Ryan Pulley, this unit will have some unfamiliar faces in 2019. Even with those guys in the mix, the Hogs snagged an SEC-worst 5 interceptions, returning them for a grand total of 5 yards.
The secondary also gave up 245.3 passing yards per game, which was 11th in the SEC. That’s not great, and it looks even worse when you consider that some teams (not many, but some) were running out the clock in the fourth quarter against the Hogs. This is a largely untested unit, but Curl has some experience and will need to lead the Arkansas secondary to a better season.
K: Connor Limpert
P: Reid Bauer
Punt returner: Deon Stewart
Kick returner: De’Vion Warren
Limpert was solid in his first full season as Arkansas’s kicker, nailing 19-of-24 attempts and going a perfect 29-for-29 on extra points. Bauer, meanwhile, needs to jumpstart the Hogs’ punting game this year. Thought it wasn’t entirely on him as a freshman in 2018, the Razorbacks averaged a measly 37.5 yards per punt, ahead of only Alabama. The problem, of course, is that Arkansas led the SEC in punts (68), while Alabama only booted it away 42 times.
Stewart handled the punt return duties last year, but only returned 9 punts. He fared well on those, though, averaging 10.1 yards per return. Warren brought back 14 kickoffs, averaging a decent 28.5 yards. The Hogs could use a couple of special teams touchdowns this year, so we’ll see if any of the talented freshmen get in on the return game.
Final thoughts …
The Hogs have perhaps their biggest strengths in the backfield and in the receiving corps (those blue-chip freshmen seriously have incredible potential). The biggest key for Morris during fall camp will be deciding whether Hicks or Starkel is the right guy to lead the offense.
The biggest weakness is the secondary. There’s talent, but unless that unit quickly jells, it could be a rough start for Chavis and the Hogs to the 2019 campaign.
Can they improve on last year’s dismal 2-10 record? If so, how much? We’ll start finding out on Saturday, Aug. 31, when they host Portland State.