Last fall there was a brief window of opportunity for Drew Morgan when Keon Hatcher was pushed to the second unit after a drop or two in fall camp, then a big miss against Auburn. Morgan stepped up, then Hatcher responded and reclaimed the spot.
It's not like that right now in spring drills. Morgan is getting more repetitions with the first team with Hatcher on the mend after sustaining a bruised knee last week. Hatcher did return for a few plays Thursday, but will probably be limited in Saturday's scrimmage, set to begin at 11 a.m. It's open to the public.
Morgan may be better prepared to take advantage of the extra time after gaining some extra pounds over the winter. He's hovering at the 200-pound mark, about 20 to 25 pounds up from his high school days at Greenwood.
"This spring I really just wanted to gain some weight, some speed and momentum," Morgan said after Thursday's practice. "Going into the year, last year we ended real strong - I had a couple catches in the bowl game - so definitely trying to play a role now. Keon, rotating with him, and Cody (Hollister) and Jared (Cornelius). As long as we're all on the field I think good things are going to happen.
"I ended the season around 190 and now I'm like at 198. I'm pushing around 200. But with pads on I'm more 210, 215."
Morgan has earned praise from head coach Bret Bielema, who noted it's been a good winter after seeing fewer issues come across his desk with Morgan's name on them. Morgan said he's just growing up.
"I feel like it's more of a -- just, just, self-maturing would be a word," Morgan said. "But I"m thinking more and being more about accountability. You're more accountable to do something whenever somebody else tells you 'hey, you've got to do this to play on the field.' It's not like I already knew that. It's like he knows I have to do that so now I'm accountable to do that. I have responsibilities. As long as I'm taking care of my responsibilities, I'll see the field."
What things were the problem?
"That was more of just a me and him conversation," Morgan said. "If you want to ask him more about that, he can probably answer that one."
It's clear that quarterback Brandon Allen does not question Morgan's accountability. He has clearly been one of Allen's favorite targets this spring. He caught a 22-yard touchdown pass in traffic in the scrimmage, a beautiful pass by Allen.
"I had to step up in the role because Keon went down, but he practiced a little bit today," Morgan said. "Obviously he's getting better. Day by day with it."
Morgan doesn't want to get stuck behind Hatcher. So he's learned all four wideout spots this spring in the Dan Enos offense. He feels comfortable at all of them. He sees good development in the passing game, highlighted by last week's scrimmage. He expects more progress in the passing game Saturday when the Hogs will be on public display.
"I thought it improved tremendous, just the amount of taking time and effort preseason," Morgan said. "After season, January when we first came in, there were no coaches, all we did is come in here on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, come out and just, Brandon would lead the whole offense.
"It's a tremendous amount of leadership is the word I was looking for. Seeing it carry over into pads with coaches, it's great to know you have that comfort and that chip on your shoulder that we have that quarterback that has a lot of confidence in himself right now."
Morgan said he's progressed, too. He tried to provide a summary of his two years at Arkansas.
"My freshman year I wanted to have fun, enjoy college," he said. "Same time I had to take on a role as an SEC wide receiver, which is a big accomplishment I feel like I did.
"But sophomore season, I wasn't too happy with where I was at and what I tried to do. And it kind of dawned on me I was challenged to do better. Whenever I'm challenged I never back down from something so I accepted that challenge and where I'm at right now is obviously good."
Morgan was asked to compare his two head coaches, Bielema and Greenwood legend Rick Jones.
"Rick is fast. Quick, quick, quick," Morgan said. "Coach B, he is very disciplined. 'Do this the right way.' Take care of your off-the-field neccessities. Both of them really, they're much alike but at the same place, they're different. Definitely different personalities, but at the same, they're two - the most I've seen from both of them comparing is they are both player-coaches.
"They don't just coach football because they love football. They coach football because they love the players. i think that's a big step not only in coach b's coaching, but in his recruiting, because when guys come outside and they see that he actually knows every detail about each one of his players, even the walk-ons, it's, their parents and them will be like 'Oh, that's something big. He's got something going for him.' "
Morgan has a competitive nature. He calls it a dog's mentality.
"I'm not perfect," he said. "I make mistakes every day. Weight room I still dig deep, got to have a dog heart. I'm from Greenwood and coach Young and coach Jones always say 'you've got to dig deep, you're a Bulldog.' That will never leave me. You know how they are. Proving to myself, really until that first game comes on Saturday evening, Saturday night, if I'm not on the field, I don't feel accomplished. Until I'm on that field then something big's going to happen."
That dog mentality oozes throughout the wide receiver group.
"It's just that dog mentality," Morgan said. "How bad do you want it? Do you want to see other guys make plays or do you want to see your position make plays? IN the end it doesn't matter how many points we score, it matters who's winning at the end of the game. If we win by one point, we still win. Now, was it our touchdown? No, but it might have been our block. As long as we're contributing to the team I feel like we're doing our job."
Drew Morgan is ready to catch a pass in Tuesday's practice.
Photo by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated
Drew Morgan Steps Up
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