State of the Hogs: As Advertised

Could Drew Morgan match the scouting report we've been getting after practices this week? He did and more Saturday when the Hogs went live in the stadium for a scrimmage open to the media.

When you get the scouting report, sometimes it doesn't always match with what your own eyes see down the road. These days, almost all of the reports from practices come from what the coaches tell you, as opposed to what you have been used to seeing yourself.

So when the media rolled into Reynolds Razorback Stadium for practice number six of fall camp for the Arkansas football team, the question was clear: Would the 2014 Hogs look like anything like what we had been hearing at the media opportunities both in the summer and after the first five days of practice, all closed?

Oh, yeah, Bret Bielema's second Arkansas team is going to be much better than his first. And, there are finally some wide receivers, most of whom seem to be on the same page with quarterback Brandon Allen. There are lots of talented tight ends and they, too, mesh with the quarterback.

There were lots of other takeaways Saturday with the scrimmage -- open to the media but not to the public -- but I'll start by saying Greenwood coach Rick Jones was right, per the usual. I've trusted Jones to tell me the truth for going on 25 years since I first met him as a high school coach in the Tulsa area. He'll look you in the eye and give you the right scouting report on players, teams and coaches. I trust Jones where it comes to football and really almost all things.

Jones told me two years ago that Drew Morgan, despite barely standing 6-foot tall, was the real deal. There was a reason why Jones played Morgan at wideout, kick returner, tailback and quarterback and doodled during any spare moment for another way to get him the ball.

I can also say that Barry Lunney, Jr., was right when he pointed at Morgan two days ago in the interview room with a simple one-word explanation as to why the Greenwood product would play a bunch for the Hogs this season despite all the hype about four fine prospects in the 2014 signing class.

"Trust," Lunney said. "We trust 80."

And, that was the man who jumped out Saturday in the scrimmage. He was just what the scouting report that came through all week said he would be. Morgan looked crafty in his routes, great concentration on the ball in all situations, including over-the-shoulder catches to make Allen look good at quarterback. His releases were perfect. His timing was wonderful and his teammates were all over him as he made six catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns.

Some of the catches came after he released from the initial pressure from the corner, others as he coasted down the field with the corner pinned perfectly inside with no push-off or a chance at a pass interference call. And, Allen delivered the ball perfectly.

Pat Jones, former head coach at Oklahoma State and an long-time NFL assistant at times, made the usual reference that Morgan has heard so many times since Bielema gave Morgan a scholarship.

"Is he on scholarship?" Jones said.

Yes, came the answer.

"Good, I was going to say to give him one," Jones smiled. "He keeps showing up, doesn't he? He's made a lot of plays today."

Jones does radio in Tulsa and at least one station bleeds over into Arkansas. An assistant on the Broyles '75 team that won the Cotton Bowl, Jones loves to see his alma mater. He said he spent the better part of Saturday morning driving around campus seeing what is still around from his college days.

"Man, they are building stuff everywhere," he said. "It's all gorgeous. I have to admit, I was looking out the window and hit a few orange cones."

Jones liked what he saw of the Razorbacks. He said there has been some construction since he saw them in the spring.

"They are a different looking bunch," he said. "I like them. And, I hadn't seen Korliss Marshall. He's got something."

Well, we've known that for awhile. Bret Bielema said he didn't realize what kind of burst Marshall possessed when he first got to campus, but he knows now. He went into that as he finished his media visit after the scrimmage Saturday when someone asked about the return game, the last question of the day. He said Marshall, the No. 33, is outstanding.

"It's interesting, you ask any player on our team, it's hard for them to come up with a list for our kickoff return guys without putting number 33 in the scheme. He's extremely gifted, one of the most explosive players I've ever coached. I didn't realize that at some points a year ago, but I know now.

"The rest (in the kickoff return group) I'm not sure about, yet. But it illustrates where we've come in recruiting and development. On kickoff return, we might have had six total players we'd work back there. Now we may have 25 and we are trying to cut it down to 15 to pick your five. That's a great sign."

Yes, but I'll stick with what has happened at receiver as the most positive sign in the recruiting and development story. Ben Herbert, the strength and conditioning coach, has done a wonderful job turning Rick Jones' do-it-all-guy into an SEC wideout. Morgan has added 20 pounds up to 190 and he's gotten quicker and much stronger. He's doing exactly what Jones said he would do when I talked to him two winters ago when Bielema took him.

Morgan made his move this summer in the seven-on-seven games with Allen. Then, when junior wideout Keon Hatcher, the four star who dropped a couple in a spring game, dropped a deep ball on Wednesday, Bielema moved Morgan into his spot.

"We made the decision early in the week with Drew," Bielema said. "I told our coaches that we had four wideouts that I wanted on the field at all times -- Drew, Demetrius Wilson, Jared Cornelius and Cody Hollister. And, Keon responded to that. Depth wise, I think we have five that bring something to us."

Bielema compared Morgan to former Wisconsin wideout Jared Abbrederis, and he said not because both are white.

"When you don't have optimal speed, you have to catch everything, get your splits right, do everything perfect," Bielema said, noting Morgan does that.

Then, he added, "I know that Brandon Allen came into the locker room and the first thing he's checking on, how is No. 80."

That would be Morgan, slowed a bit at the end of the scrimmage with cramps. Bielema assured that Morgan was fine.

And, the heat did get to some of the Hogs on Saturday. He said he watches summer weather as much as any other factor in the offseason program. He said Herbert gives him the temperatures of the workouts, including morning afternoon and the late afternoon groups.

"I see the temperature every day," Bielema said. "We've had some hot days this week, hotter than we had this summer. We are checking on that. Last summer, we had over 30 days in our workouts over 90 (degrees). It's been cool this summer. We have had only five total (over 90).

"We keep records. We are watching. I will say the temperature today and what we had this week was a blessing in disguise. We can get through this and we will move inside if we need to and we can make it as hot as we want in there and we won't get skin cancer."

I'm sure they keep records on fumbled center exchanges, of which there were three with true freshman Frank Ragnow snapping for the second team. He's not ready to take the job from junior Mitch Smothers.

"Frank has had a nice week," Bielema said. "I can't imagine popping in as a true freshman and learning center. It's going to take a little bit to get him perfect. Right now, Mitch Smothers is probably our best option.

"He's learning it like he's just stepping in to Pop Warner. Let's just say he's a big Pop Warner player."

Among the other things that jumped out about this Arkansas offense, there may not be a fullback ready to do anything like Kiero Small.

And, it's clear that Cameron Jefferson will soon be in the rotation at left guard, perhaps chasing down first teamer Luke Charpentier by the opener. Sebastian Tretola is bigger than life, maybe as much as 370 pounds big. He's in the picture at guard, too.

"Those two guys, Cameron and Sebastian, are extremely impressive," Bielema said. "When I take a transfer, I take a lot into caution and a lot of yield. You have to make sure they fit in.

"They do. They fit physically and schematically and at dinner. They love everything about what is going on here."

They have to make sure Tretola doesn't love dinner quite so much. Bielema said there is a diet in place to get him down to perhaps 350 by the opener Aug. 30 against Auburn.

"If Sebastian loses five a week, that will get him to 350 by Auburn," Bielema said.

What will be the scouting report on Tretola then? He'll still be a giant and Drew Morgan will still be doing what Rick Jones said he'd do.



Sebastian Tretola (73) and Dan Skipper (76) gives the Hogs true mass on the offensive line.

Photo by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated

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