The first rule of football is don’t beat yourself, and the second is like unto it, give yourself a chance to win.
Both rules are similar, but they aren’t exactly the same thing.
To boil it down, teams beat themselves with turnovers, penalties, blown assignments, and other miscues. The whole team is involved in eliminating those types of issues, but on the offensive side of the football having an accountable leader at quarterback who does things exactly the right way cures a lot of ills. A quarterback like that puts pressure on the other players to do it the right way, too.
No doubt one of the attributes Arkansas head coach Chad Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock are looking for in a starting quarterback is a player whom they can trust to set the right tone, a winning tone, with the other players on a daily basis.
Matt Jones, UA quarterback 2001-2004, was probably the most athletically gifted quarterback ever to play for Arkansas. Simply put, he won games for the Razorbacks, but he nearly drove head coach Houston Nutt crazy doing it.
Jones never fully had Nutt’s trust because he was such a wildcard. However, Jones was so talented that Nutt and his finger nails mostly lived with it because there was no better option.
Morris doesn’t want to live on that kind of a ledge with a quarterback, not even close, and unfortunately, there’s not a quarterback on the team who could touch the hem of Jones’ jersey in terms of athletic ability.
A team and a quarterback that doesn’t beat itself will find opportunities that more sloppy teams and quarterbacks wouldn’t. Any team that is going to overachieve has to be a team that doesn’t beat itself, and the Razorbacks are going to have to be a team that overachieves, if they expect to win more than five or six ballgames this season.
To give themselves a chance to win, the Razorbacks are going to have to be an opportunistic football team. They are going to have to be a team that takes advantage of their opponent’s turnovers and mistakes. To do that, the Hogs can’t have many lapses of their own. They have to perform consistently and not leave anything on the table.
No doubt, Morris and Craddock want a quarterback who has the ability to seize the moment when it arises. The Hogs’ quarterback needs to be able to read and make plays within the offense to lead the team to points and victories. Morris calls that finding the answers.
Every coach wants that. A few quarterbacks do that naturally, but for the most part a quarterback has to be trained to be that type of player. With this being Morris and Craddock’s first year on the job at Arkansas, they have not had a lot of time with the Razorbacks quarterbacks, and Arkansas’ QBs haven’t had a ton of experience.
What experience sophomore Cole Kelley and junior Ty Storey have on the college level came in a completely different offense that focused on a different set of quarterbacking skills. Going from a Pro-style offense to the Spread is an adjustment.
Morris has said fully implementing all the tenants of his offense will be an ongoing process that might not be fully completed this year. On more than one occasion, Morris has said he will adapt to what his first Razorback offense is best at doing to give them the best chance of winning this year.
Morris is proud of his roots in high school coaching and since high school coaches can’t — or at least aren’t supposed to — recruit, successful ones become adept at adjusting or tweaking their schemes to make the most out of the talent available.
The talents and skills of the quarterback dictates much of what an offense can execute at a high level against a quality opponent like the Razorbacks will see regularly once SEC play begins.
Word is that Storey took all his snaps with the first-string offense in last Saturday’s scrimmage, and that Cole Kelley worked with both the first and second team. The three freshmen quarterbacks Daulton Hyatt, John Steven Jones, and Connor Noland got snaps and were eligible to be tackled in the scrimmage unlike Storey and Kelley.
Some assume that was so the staff could judge their running ability, and that may be so to a degree, but it’s more likely their tackle eligibility was a concession to defensive coordinator John “Chief” Chavis’ need for his defenders to tackle the QB in preparation for the season.
Morris’ latest comments on the quarterback situation on Thursday continued to be very general.
“I wish I knew, but I don’t,” Morris said about who will start at quarterback at his Thursday press conference. “We talk about it everyday. Whoever it is, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a life-time contract. You’re going to have to be on your game.
“There has been some good things out of all of them. I’ve been pleased with all of them, but they all have to keep pushing and getting better, keep pushing that ball down the field, and doing the right things. It’s all about being that same guy every day. Up or down, you’ve got to control your emotions and withstand adversity, and keep pushing forward.
“We talk about it everyday. I don’t know. We are not ready to name anybody, and I wouldn’t know who to name to be honest with you outside of the fact that we have a good competition going on inside that [quarterback] room. Hopefully after this Saturday, we will have a little bit better idea.”
The Razorbacks are holding another scrimmage Saturday that is closed to the media, but open to around 300 former players who will attend a barbecue with the team later that day. Morris said the scrimmage will focus more on the passing game whereas the previous scrimmage worked more on the running game.
Some are extremely concerned about the quarterback position for the Hogs. I’m in that camp. Kelley has an impressive arm, but he was far from a polished product when Austin Allen’s injury forced him into playing last season.
While Storey was somewhat of a heralded recruit when he arrived on campus with four stars on his resume, he has yet to show fans or anyone outside the program a great deal of promise, particularly under Bret Bielema’s regime.
Storey doesn’t have the prototypical build of a Pro-style quarterback that former Arkansas offensive offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Dan Enos wanted. The 6-3 Enos reportedly said he only wanted to recruit quarterbacks taller than him after working with the Allen brothers. That may be one of the reasons why the 6-2 Storey was seemingly pushed to the side in previous years?
A new coaching staff means a clean slate, and Morris’ Spread offense is more in tune with the offense Storey operated at Charleston High School. Sometimes players come into their own at different times, and sometimes a true opportunity is what makes that happen.
Realistically speaking, this is the first true opportunity for Storey to make an impact at Arkansas. It would have taken a truly incredible talent to have displaced Austin Allen in the pecking order the past two seasons.
Anyone who has played the game even just a little knows a player’s attitude is totally different in practice when he believes he has a chance to earn a spot and when he feels like he doesn’t.
That opportunity to play might have awakened something in Storey that was dormant in his previous years at Arkansas.
However, the Razorbacks have another scrimmage on Saturday, and maybe Kelley responds to the challenge and has a great day. Maybe he moves ahead of Storey. He has the bigger frame and the stronger arm.
I guess it could happen, but it just seems that while Morris has said there is no separation between the two quarterbacks in the predominantly closed practices that Storey seems to be ahead in the QB competition and will likely be the starter in the Razorbacks’ season opener Sept. 1 against Eastern Illinois.
Next week could be interesting. Traditionally scout squads, made up of players who aren’t expected to contribute right away, are formed two weeks to 10 days ahead of the first game. Scout squads mimic the upcoming opponent’s schemes to aid in practice. Generally two quarterbacks work with the scout team, meaning they won’t get reps within Arkansas’ offense and won’t be in the game plan for Eastern Illinois.
Typically, the starting units solidify at that point as well. Starting quarterbacks usually get two-thirds or more of the game-week prep work. Now, Morris may run his practices differently, and with mostly closed practices, we may not know who is going to start until the week of the game or possibly until the starter trots onto the field in Arkansas’ first series.
Right now, Razorback fans just have to wait and trust that Morris and his staff have the situation handled, that they will have the best Razorback quarterback available pulling the trigger against Eastern Illinois on Sept. 1
I’m as anxious and eager as anyone to get this season kicked off. It’s just 15 days away, but that somehow seems like an eternity.