FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Several questions got answered during Chad Morris’ meeting with the media on Monday.
Among the hot topics has been who would start at quarterback and what is wrong with true freshman wide receiver Trey Knox, who hasn’t practiced since Aug. 17?
In addition to Morris, the two coordinators, Joe Craddock and John Chavis, also met with the media. Morris announced that senior Ben Hicks will start at quarterback.
“Everything’s earned in this program,” Morris said. “Nothing’s given and Ben has earned the right to start and will be our starter week 1 going into Portland State. Ben Hicks. The competition between Ben and Nick (Starkel) has been impressive to say the least over three weeks. Nick has done a great job and has picked up the offense in a few short weeks and has an incredible skill set. We’re excited to watch his continued growth and knowledge of this offense and the understanding of this offense in weeks to come.
“But we feel very confident in Ben and his compete overall knowledge, as you would expect. Ben has been in this offense for three years. Been here since January. Nick has been in this offense for three weeks. But to see the growth of what Nick has done for three weeks has been extremely impressive. I think Ben has an incredible command for everyone and where everyone should be. We’ve got a, we’re going to play a lot of young guys. And that alone was the main deciding factor, is his ability to know where everybody’s supposed to be, to get our offensive line in the right protection and do it at a pace to where the game, because of his experience, is a little bit slower. So experience and knowledge of the offense and playing a lot of the young guys.”
Do you expect Starkel to also play in the opener?
“Well, we’ve definitely got to continue to get Nick’s experience up,” Morris said. “So you know, the game will dictate a lot. But I do anticipate having an opportunity to play quarterbacks, additional quarterbacks, that being Nick and we really started talking about this in depth Saturday night and led into Sunday. Beanie Bowl had nothing to do with it. Beanie Bowl was nothing more than a glorified game of moving on and off the field, personnel changes and situations.
“And then we just came to the conclusion that the main deciding factor was the fact that with the amount of young players that we’re going to put on the field in week 1 that Ben’s overall understanding of where everybody needed to be. Not that Nick doesn’t have that, but Ben’s got a better command, naturally three years into it, but we’ve been very impressed with Nick and be able to bring him along.”
Morris coached Hicks three years at SMU after recruiting him from Waco (Texas) Midway. How has Hicks grown as a competitor since you’ve known him?
“Well, I think with Ben and being with him for three years he’s a fierce competitor like all quarterbacks are, and I just think what i have seen — I’ve probably seen him mature more from our last year and not being with him for one year and then him coming in here in January and essentially starting from ground zero with a football team and guys that were on this team and watching him having to mature,” Morris said. “I’ve seen just his maturity level and just the knowledge of the offense, I guess you would say, is really elevated. We told, back to your question, we told the quarterbacks this morning. I met with them and shared with them this morning. Just, hey, there’s going to be many opportunities through the course of this season. Make sure that you’re ready and you capture your opportunity.”
Morris talked about how the team has responded to Hicks.
“Ben is just a competitor,” Morris said. “I think he’s much like all the quarterbacks in that room. When they’re on the field, they’re the field general. They’re in charge. Guys rally around them. They’ve rallied around Ben. Again, they’ve known Ben a little longer, since January. I know that watching these guys rally, I mean they want to win. Bottom line, this football team wants to win. These players want to win. It’s about production on the field and guys going out and producing on the field. Regardless, what you do will gravitate a lot of guys to you.”
What were the pros and cons of Hicks and Starkel?
“We’ve talked about the knowledge,” Morris said. “I think that with knowledge the game slows down for you. Unless you have played this game or coached this game as long as we have, that’s hard to put to an average fan that asks what does it mean when the game is slowing down. Well, it’s about anticipation. It’s anticipating that this is about to happen, that this window is about to open up and I can get the ball out in time. That’s what experience brings you.
“I think from a skill-set with Nick, he’s got incredible arm strength. He’s got the size, he’s got decent speed. I think that his decision making has been impressive during camp, especially trying to put this offense in in three weeks with him. He’s a student of the game. I won’t say the pros and cons but those are some of the strengths they both have. Ben is a competitor and understands where to go with the ball at the right time.”
What’s Ben’s arm strength like?
“I think Ben’s arms strength, he’s got good arm strength,” Morris said. “He is accurate. I think when you look at the overall breakdown of camp and the accuracy, I think he’s just been accurate with it. Does the ball jump out of his hand like it does Nick? No. I think anybody can see that. I mean, watch them in the warm-up. But, I don’t have to throw the ball and the ball jump out of my hand to be accurate. Accuracy is a big part of what we do, and while Nick is extremely accurate, Ben is too. I think a lot of that has to do with he understands where to go with the ball and how to get it there.”
Craddock agreed with Morris’ decision to start Hicks.
“Yeah, I think Ben’s earned it,” Craddock said. “He went out every day and led the guys. Nick started with an uphill curve, honestly, because he got here a little later than Ben did. Ben went out and competed and did everything we asked him to do. He has a great understanding of the offense and where we’re at. Especially going out there with a lot of young guys. And so we feel that Ben gives us the best chance to win right now because he he can really get everybody going in the right way.
“He can make sure that if a freshman receiver is split out too wide or too tight he can be able to move him around and make protection calls and help the offensive line and help the running backs. So it’s just kind of what we felt like that gives us the best chance to win going into Week One.”
Morris also talked about Knox and when he will return to practice this week. He also talked about left tackle Colton Jackson, tight end Cheyenne O’Grady and wide receiver Koilan Jackson.
“Colton will play. Colton should start,” Morris said. “He’ll go through workouts this week. He was with us last night. Trey Knox, we anticipate having Trey out for practice on Wednesday. And Koilan Jackson should be full go. He practiced full speed last night. CJ ran well last night. Actually was pushing a sled a little bit. You saw him running. Not at full speed just yet. We’ll see. Wednesday would be a great indicator for CJ.”
Arkansas and Portland State will kickoff at 3 p.m. on Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.