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Morris eager to bring energy to new-look Arkansas in spring

March 1, 2018

FILE - In this Dec. 20, 2017, file photo, Arkansas coach Chad Morris speaks during an NCAA college football press conference in Fayetteville, Ark. Arkansas will open its first practices under new coach Chad Morris on Thursday, March 1, 2018. The former SMU coach is taking over a program that went 4-8 last season and is transitioning to more of an up-tempo look on offense. (Andy Shupe/The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP, File)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Chad Morris has spent plenty of time on the job during his first few months at Arkansas, taking part in everything from offseason training and recruiting to a series of meet-and-greets with fans across the state.

The Razorbacks coach’s time as a salesman will come to an end when he gets his first look on the field at his new team when spring practice begins Thursday.

Morris is inheriting an Arkansas team that bottomed out with a 4-8 record last season, a difficult year that marked the end of former coach Bret Bielema’s tenure with the Razorbacks. The school went 29-34 during Bielema’s five seasons, but it’s eager to reassert its position in the Southeastern Conference after a lackluster stretch of three bowl games in six seasons.

As much as Morris was hired to recapture success on the field, the former SMU coach was also brought in to energize a fan base that saw Razorback Stadium largely empty during several games late last season.

That’s why, in addition to hitting the recruiting trail, Morris has also spent time preaching his high-energy, up-tempo philosophy to fans across the state.

“Obviously, I’ve been on the road a lot,” Morris said. “I’ve literally spent more time, I believe, in the air than I have on the ground since I’ve been here.”

Some other things to watch during Morris’ first spring with the Razorbacks:

SPRING GAME

Morris will start the process of installing his offensive and defensive schemes with a series of spring practices that begin on Thursday and will feature a spring game away from campus in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium on April 7. It’s another step at earning the buy-in of fans across Arkansas while also working around an under-construction Razorback Stadium that’s scheduled to be completed in time for this season.

DEPTH CHART

Morris said one of his goals during the spring is to establish a depth chart, including at quarterback — where sophomore Cole Kelley saw the bulk of the action when Austin Allen was injured and out at times last season. Kelley, who was suspended to end last season following an arrest for suspicion of driving while intoxicated, will start the spring at the top of the quarterback pecking order — while freshman Daulton Hyatt and junior Ty Storey will also try and impress the new coaches. “Cole will start off getting our first reps,” Morris said. ”... Is there a definite starter? Absolutely not.”

INJURY UPDATE

Several Razorbacks who missed extended time with injuries are healthy and expected to practice during the spring. Morris said running back Chase Hayden (leg), wide receiver Jared Cornelius (Achilles) and cornerback Ryan Pulley (pectoral) are recovered and will return to the field.

WEIGHT LOSS

One of Morris’ focuses since his arrival has been increasing the overall team speed for Arkansas while also shedding some of the bulk that defined the Bielema era. To that extent, the Razorbacks have worked extensively on conditioning over the last two months and are expected to look the part when they take the field for the first time on Thursday. “They are leaned up,” Morris said.

SUMMER SCHOOL

Morris said Arkansas will still have two spring practices remaining after its spring game. He said those practices are designed so the new coaching staff can work closely with the Razorbacks to show them exactly how they want them to work on their summer drills.

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