FAYETTEVILLE - About every head college football coach said his football team improved with Wednesday’s start of the 3-day early signing period.
Considering the Razorbacks he inherited just went 2-10, Arkansas Coach Chad Morris could proclaim his team’s improvement with a polygraph passing straight face.
Morris announced 20, 18 high school seniors and two junior college transfer offensive linemen, as signed Wednesday with more to come for the February signing period starting Feb. 6 and possibly during the remaining two days of this December early signing period.
“We got a lot better today as a football team and as a program,” Morris said at his Wednesday afternoon signing day press conference. “We addressed a lot of needs that needed to be addressed. We’re not done. We’ve got a lot of work left but this was definitely a start in this early signing period as we signed 20 new members. We addressed a lot of deficiencies that we felt we had to address.”
Obviously deficiencies abounded given the 2-10 record that included 0-8 in the SEC.
The signees, 10 on offense and 10 on defense, include 14 listed as 4-star prospects by at least one of the major recruiting services. Alphabetically they are defensive back Greg Brooks of Harvey, La., Wednesday’s most dramatic signee as his decision between Arkansas and Mississippi State weighed until the final day; defensive lineman Taurean Carter; Mansfield, Texas; defensive back Malik Chavis, Rison; defensive lineman Collin Clay, Oklahoma City; junior college transfer offensive lineman Myron Cunningham; defensive lineman Eric Gregory; Memphis via IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.; defensive lineman Enoch Jackson, Mansfield, Texas; wide receiver TQ Jackson, Jefferson, Texas; quarterback KJ Jefferson, Sardis, Miss.; wide receiver Trey Knox, Murfreesboro, Tenn.; offensive lineman Brady Latham, Jenks, Okla.; offensive lineman Beaux Limmer, Tyler, Texas; defensive lineman Marcus Miller, Warren; wide receiver Shamar Nash, Memphis via IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. ; junior college transfer offensive lineman Chibueze Nwanna, Hyattsville, Md,; offensive lineman Dylan Rathcke, Baton Rouge, La.; defensive lineman Mataio Soli, Douglasville, Ga.; offensive lineman Ricky Stromberg, Tulsa; defensive lineman Zach Williams, Little Rock Joe T. Robinson; and linebacker Zach Zimos, Richmond, Texas.
Receivers TQ Jackson, Knox, and Nash stand 6-4, 6-5 and 6-3 automatically elevating the receiving corps to a higher stature in Morris’ view.
Quarterback Jefferson was Player of the Year in Mississippi and joins a quarterback competition so wide open that Morris said he will evaluate graduate transfer possibilities.
“I love the ones we have,” Morris said. “But by the same sense, yeah, I anticipate bringing someone in, whether that be January, whether that be early summer or whenever that may be. But, we’ll see. We want the right fit.”
Offensive line numbers were so down from what Morris inherited from the previous Bret Bielema regime plus three senior starting offensive linemen graduated from 2018.
So, noting he hopes not having to sign a half-dozen offensive linemen in one class again, Morris signed six offensive offensive linemen. He also beefed up the defensive trenches signing five defensive linemen.
In order of addressing, here is Morris discussing the needs and how this class can help fill them.
“Speed and size at wide receiver, depth in both the offensive and defensive lines, guys that could immediately come in here and make an impact,” Morris said. “ Addressed guys that would come in January (eight will enroll on scholarship as December graduates eligible to participate in spring practice) and affect our roster and create competition. We addressed with a quarterback to create depth, the player of the year in his state, to come in and continue to build the depth at that position.”
Presently already graduated 2019 football-senior-to be Ty Storey, the starter for nine games in 2018, redshirted freshmen Connor Noland, a starter one game but staying within the maximum 4-game limit eligible to redshirt, and John Stephen Jones, third-year sophomore to be squadman Daulton Hyatt and walk-on Jack Lindsey, lettering as the holder for Connor Limpert’s place-kicks, are listed to return at quarterback.
Jefferson will still be in high school when the others are practicing with the Razorbacks this spring but still will be evaluated in the August preseason as one who could play right away.
“KJ starts us off right there at the quarterback position,” Morris said. “Big kid, big 6-3, 215. He runs really well. Throws the ball exceptionally well. Comes from a winning program.”
Obviously juco transfers Cunningham, 6-6, 300 of Iowa Central Community College; and Nwanna, 6-7, 315 of Lackakwanna (Pa.) Community College were signed as prospects to provide immediate help in the offensive linemen.
Freshman offensive linemen generally redshirt because O-line play is so complicated mentally and the most challenging to develop physically.
However given the state of Arkansas’ offensive line, Morris rules nobody out among the incoming rookies. He seems determined that no position has a starter by default.
““I’m anticipating some of these guys playing, as well as the guys that were redshirted last year,” Morris said. “What this is going to allow us to do is create competition, and we need competition at every position. We didn’t have enough of that this year, and I think we’ve addressed that and we’re not through addressing it, either.”
Regarding Cunningham and Nwanna, Morris spoke in specifics.
On Nwanna, Morriss said, “Comes in and immediately has the range and the skill set to compete and compete quickly — on the offensive line, a must need.”
Regarding Cunningham, Morris said, “A junior college All-American he’ll able to step on the field and make a huge impact.”
Cunningham, Nwanna, Gregory, Knox, Nash, Brooks, Soli and Williams are the eight midterm graduates eligible to enroll at the UA in January.
Morris seems elated that Soli, a 6-4, 230 defensive end with 22.5 in 2018 sacks at Douglas County (Ga.) High and the son of former Razorbacks defensive lineman Junior Soli, will practice with the Hogs this spring.
“A fabulous football player,” Morris said. “This guy is absolutely dynamic. He was wanted by everybody in the country. We anticipate him to come in and be here in January and compete to play.”
Soli, Carter, Gregory, Enoch Jackson and Williams, the son of former Razorbacks linebacker Rickey Williams, all will get evaluated before the Aug. 31 season opener against Portland State as from the 2018 defensive line the Razorbacks graduate starters Armon Watts, T.J. Smith and Randy Ramsey and reserve Michael Taylor.
Brooks and Chavis were the ony defensive backs, and Zimos the only linebacker and no tight ends or running backs signed Wednesday.
That will change Feb. 6.
Heralded tight end Hudson Henry of Pulaski Academy, the son of former Razorbacks center Mark Henry and brother of former Razorbacks Mackey Award winning tight end Hunter Henry and current Razorbacks outside linebacker Hayden Henry, running back A’Monta Spivey, Phenix City, Ala.;
defensive backs Myles Brooks, Pflugerville, Texas; Adonis Otey, Murfreesboro, Tenn.; and Devin Bush, New Orleans; defensive end Dante Walker, Ellenwood, Ga.; and receiver Treylon Burks, Warren; have verbally committed to sign in February with Arkansas.
Geographically, Morris stated upon his December, 2017 Arkansas arrival from SMU that Arkansas’ national 1960s peak under Frank Broyles was stamped by recruiting footprint first in Arkansas, next in Texas and throughout the Tulsa and Memphis vicinities and Louisiana and into Missouri.
Other than from Missouri, Morris’ 20 December signees for 2019 reflect the footprint he coveted including five from Texas, the state Morris coached high school ball for 16 years.
(END OF STORY, RECRUITING LIST FOLLOWS) CORRECTING SPELLING OF RATCHKE to RATHCKE)
ARKANSAS DEC. 19 SIGNEES List, story to follow
Name, position, height weight hometown high school or JC
1. Greg Brooks DB 5-11 178 Harvey, La. West Jefferson
2. Taurean Carter DL 6-3 263 Mansfield, Texas Mansfield Legacy
3. Malik Chavis DB 6-2 187 Rison Rison
4. Collin Clay DL 6-5 261 Oklahoma City, Okla. Putnam City
5. Myron Cunningham OL 6-6 300 Warren, Ohio Iowa Central JC
6.Eric Gregory DL 6-4 270 Memphis, Tenn. IMG Academy
7. Enoch Jackson DL 6-0 290 Mansfield, Texas, Mansfield Legacy
8.TQ Jackson WR 6-4 195 Jefferson, Texas Jefferson
9.KJ Jefferson QB 6-3 211 Sardis, Miss. North Panola
10. Trey Knox WR 6-5 218 Murfreesboro, Tenn. Murfreesboro
11. Brady Latham OL 6-5 290 Jenks, Okla. Jenks
12. Beaux Limmer OL 6-5 270 Tyler, Texas Tyler Lee
13. Marcus Miller DL 6-5 300 Warren Warren
14. Shamar Nash WR 6-3 194 Memphis, Tenn. IMG Academy
15. Chibueze Nwanna OL 6-3, 315 Hyattsville, Md.
16. Dylan Rathcke OL 6-5 290 Baton Rouge La. University Lab
17. Mataio Soli DL 6-4 230 Douglasville, Ga. Douglas County
18. Ricky Stromberg OL 6-4 280 Tulsa, Okla. Union
19. Zach Williams DL 6-4 235 Little Rock Joe T. Robinson
20. Zach Zimos LB 6-4 210 Richmond, Texas Fort Bend Travis