Column: Arkansas, Morris have quietly botched the new redshirt rule
FAYETTEVILLE — Lost amid the cries for KJ Jefferson, Arkansas and Chad Morris have quietly bungled the redshirt situation for two other true freshmen.
Offensive lineman Brady Latham and safety Jalen Catalon have each appeared in three games this season, meaning they can play in only one of the Razorbacks’ final three games and still maintain the year of eligibility.
What separates them from Arkansas’ other true freshmen who have already burned their redshirts is that their playing time blatantly contradicts what Morris is on record saying about how he wants to handle the second-year NCAA rule that allows players to redshirt even if they play in up to four games.
“Our plan was to try to continue to bring guys along and be smart about it,” Morris said when asked about playing younger players following a blowout loss to Auburn on Oct. 19. “We don’t want to burn a guy’s redshirt just to get a few snaps in.”
Unlike Treylon Burks, Trey Knox, Ricky Stromberg, Greg Brooks Jr., Mataio Soli, Collin Clay and Zach Williams, who have each played more than 100 snaps this season, Latham and Catalon have played a combined 12 snaps.
The breakdown of those snaps is even more puzzling.
Latham’s first appearance - as well as fellow offensive lineman Beaux Limmer’s - came against Colorado State, when he was in the game for Arkansas’ kneel down at the end of the 55-34 win. His other six snaps came against Alabama and Mississippi State, when he played the Razorbacks final three offensive snaps of both games.
Similarly, Catalon’s first appearance - as well as former teammate Devin Bush’s - came against Ole Miss, when he was in the game for the Rebels’ two kneel downs at the end of Arkansas’ 31-17 loss. He then played two defensive snaps against San Jose State and one kickoff coverage snap against Kentucky.
When asked Monday afternoon if he regretted how he handled their playing time, Morris danced around the question.
“Jalen’s actually going to play this week,” Morris said. “He’s got a game left, so we’re excited about Jalen. Brady Latham I think got some substantial reps last week. Obviously with the injuries in our offensive line, we’ve kind of had to bring him along. We were trying to hold him as much as we can, so that’s where we’re at.”
Those injuries Morris referred to make Latham’s situation the most detrimental to the Razorbacks.
With Colton Jackson retiring for medical reasons and concussions keeping Austin Capps and Kirby Adcock out, the true freshman from Jenks, Okla., was listed as the backup left guard and left tackle Saturday.
Morris said they “expect” Capps to return this week, but if he isn’t healthy, Latham would be an injury away from being thrust into a starting role at two different positions.
There was nothing Arkansas could do about his three snaps against Alabama, as Adcock and center Ty Clary went down with injuries, forcing backup left guard Shane Clenin to shift to center and Latham into action at left guard.
However, the kneel down snap against Colorado State and three snaps against Mississippi State - for which he replaced a seemingly healthy Myron Cunningham at left tackle - could have been easily avoided and enabled him to play in all three of the remaining games, if needed, without worry of wasting his year of eligibility.
Catalon’s playing time was mismanaged even worse than Latham’s. By playing him for two kneel downs at Ole Miss and - inexplicably - the one kickoff coverage play at Kentucky, the Razorbacks wiped out half of his four-game limit with pointless snaps.
Even the two meaningful snaps he received against San Jose State couldn’t have been very productive. Defensive coordinator John Chavis has mentioned several times throughout the season that young players won’t get better unless they get in the game, but how much better can a guy get in just two snaps?
The hype surrounding Catalon makes his lack of usage even more disappointing. Part of the finishing touches to Arkansas’ touted 2019 signing class, he was a four-star safety and the No. 243 overall player in the country, according to Rivals.
Morris added to the excitement when he referred to Catalon as one of the top five high school players he’d ever seen, mentioning him alongside the likes of Vince Young. Multiple pick-sixes in fall camp only made the legend grow.
Now, if the coaches follow through with it, fans will finally get their first real look at one of Arkansas’ most heralded true freshmen in the 10th game of the season.
“For this team to grow where it needs to, we've got to continue to bring those young guys along, because that's the future,” Chavis said. “That's the future and that's where the hope is going to be.”
Not being ready for a full-time role as a true freshman is understandable, but the Razorbacks won’t even be able to showcase Catalon alongside Jefferson, A’Montae Spivey, Hudson Henry, Malik Chavis and company down the stretch.
And Morris’ botched handling of his playing time is to blame.