Freshman wide receiver Drew Morgan is squarely in the plans for the Arkansas offense. The Greenwood product produced a pair of big plays in Wednesday's practice and said there are still plenty of playmakers even as the injury bug depletes the wideout group.
"Big plays happen every day for us in this offense," Morgan said. "Our quarterbacks are throwing the ball great. They are really stepping up. Brandon Allen has been tremendous every day. We have big plays."
Morgan said sometimes the big plays are not long plays.
"I thought I had one today in a third-and-3 situation," he said. "The ball came to me for the first down on a quick route, then the next play I got a touchdown, 45 yards. Those are big plays.
"But I also think a big play can be something no one sees until the tape is shown that night. I'm 6-foot, 184, and when I'm told to pick off a linebacker and I block him and he's 6-2, 235, that's a big play. They may not know it right away, but everyone knows it when they see the tape. That's big for me as a freshman in the SEC, an accomplishment."
The Hogs have lost Mekale McKay (transfer), Demetrius Wilson (ACL surgery) and D'Arthur Cowan (foot surgery) since the start of fall camp, all wideouts that figured to be in the top six. They have also lost tight end Austin Tate (shoulder surgery) in that time.
"That's a challenge to your depth," said Barry Lunney, tight ends coach. "We've had to change the roles for some players and develop some guys, but they have responded. For some, it's added a lot to their plate. The food chain got bumped up a little bit for some guys. Maybe guys are learning dual roles and before it was a single role. But they are doing it."
Morgan is one of those that has added to his role.
"I thought as a freshman, I'd come in as probably an inside receiver," he said. "But now, I'm learning all three (wideout) positions. It's a lot. It's a complicated offense. But I'm getting it. Guys got hurt and it forced me into the fire. I jumped into the furnace.
"I'm learning it. I think I'm solid right now."
Morgan said the intensity, the length of the days and the amount of physical pressure has been more than he expected.
"It's been a lot," he said. "I really wondered when we were going to get a break. It's been fast, and hectic. Then, Coach (Bret) Bielema took us to the movies last night, perfect break.
"I think he knows exactly what he's doing. I'd tell anyone who is out there, a recruit, that. I'd heard Coach (Bobby) Petrino was hard on players. Coach Bielema is straight with us.
"Coach Bielema has told us over and over that the offense starts with the wide receivers and it's our job to make plays and help the team get hyped. He's helped us with what we have gone through.
"We are making great progress. We've had some great practices. He tells us it's going to be fun on game day. We are having fun now, but the games are going to be a lot of fun. He understands exactly what he's doing."
Lunney said the tight end group has been quick to pick up the slack with Tate's injury. Lunney also said Tate has proved to be a valuable asset even on the injury list. Kept in camp as part of the 105 by Bielema, Lunney said he's gotten a boost in the meeting room and the field from the Harrison product.
"He's another coach for me," Lunney said. "He's helped all of the guys in the meeting room and as just my assistant coach. He knows it. He was the most versatile and can play all three of our tight end positions and he's helped everyone. He's engaged with our tight ends and with our special teams. Right now, he's Coach Tate."
Lunney said Alex Voelzke is one of the tight ends who is displaying versatility with Tate out.
"First, I'm happy for Alex, with the scholarship," Lunney said. "All of the guys in our meeting room were excited for him. I think it's validation for what he's done and what he's going to do for the team. It shows that we value him as a player.
"He played last year. He was on the field as a tight end and he was out there on special teams. So he has some experience. He continues to get better. He's got better and become a utility player, one of our guys who knows all three tight end spots. He's done well."
With the injuries to Tate and wideouts, Lunney said freshman Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle (redshirted last year) probably get bigger roles. Both were already in the plans, but they have expanded in the last week.
"First, Coach (Michael) Smith has done a nice job with the wide receivers," Lunney said. "That group has persevered. We've had our share of bad luck at the two positions, but it happens in football. To have a little bit of injuries is not uncommon. You move forward and we have done that.
"You just see guys like Drew Morgan and Melvinson Hartfield step up. I think you see Henry and Sprinkle step up.
"We already had some situations with our tight ends split wide with both of those guys and maybe there is a little more. We knew that Hunter could really play in space. So maybe there is a bit more of a role for him there."
Henry drew plenty of praise from Lunney.
"I thought there might have been a couple of days where Hunter got a little bit of a lull, but he's over that," Lunney said. "Maybe it was camp weary legs. But he came out of that.
"It's clear that he's going to play a lot of football for us. He's had a nice camp."
Henry played in a flexed position in a spread offense at Pulaski Academy. He rarely lined up as a conventional tight end in a three-point stance. Generally, he was in a two-point stance.
"That was a question we had, could he come down and put his hand down," Lunney said. "He's done that. He's a nice blocker. I've always believed blocking was a matter of two things, do you have a want to and do you have ability. He's got desire and he has ability.
"We've got good SEC defensive ends. Hunter goes against Trey Flowers and Chris Smith, both big physical ends. He doesn't win every battle, but he wins his share. I think he'll win battles against the SEC ends we play against. Maybe not every battle, but his share.
"What you see is that he has a great knack for how to play in space. He played in a great spread offense. He has an incredible ability to feel for where the space is going to be. You see it and think, 'This guy knows space.' And then you see that he's not hesitant to put his hand down and get physical. Sometimes it's hard to have one guy who can do both, but he seems to have that."
Fullback Kiero Small understands the injury bug. He was involved with it last year with a broken foot early in the season. He's spent the last few days working on several emotional teammates.
"Demetrius Wilson is my roommate so I've talked with him," Small said. "It's tough to go through that. But he knows he'll make it back. I can show him that I did it. I've talked with Cowan, too. I know all of these guys, Tate included. They are going to battle back and so is the team.
"I think what you do as a team is focus on your assignments. You just push forward. That's what we are doing."
Small said he's had to spend some time on the shelf in camp, but is full go now. He had a full go Tuesday against a rising defensive star, linebacker Martrell Spaight. Small had not heard of the new term, "Getting Spaighted."
"That's what they are calling it?" Small said. "I hadn't heard that. I will tell you that he brings it. I like that. He's going to give you everything he's got."
Spaight called it a stalemate when the two collided Tuesday.
"He said it was a stalemate?" Small said. "Well, I know I didn't get Spaighted and I don't think he got Kieroed. I thought maybe it was a train wreck."
Morgan thought that was interesting. He said he had already met Spaight early in camp.
"It was one of the early scrimmages and I turned up the sideline and right into Martrell," Morgan said. "He got me good. He said, 'Welcome to the SEC.' He is a junior college transfer, but he knows what the SEC is like. He grew up in Arkansas and knows exactly what it will be like on Saturdays in the SEC."
The Hogs have had enough of hitting each other. They were glad to break into game preparation with sets of their first foe, the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns.
"It's time for that," Small said. "You want to take care of your teammates. You want to get to working on the opponent and play the games. You want to hit them."
Lunney said the Hogs had good segments against Louisiana on Wednesday in all three phases of the game, including special teams.
"It was a good, long practice," Lunney said. "The players had good focus and got a lot done on offense, defense and special teams as we began our game preparations for Louisiana."
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