Quarterback battle to expand and continue into August
Arkansas’ starting quarterback job remains unclaimed.
The most important position on the field hasn’t been open like this since 2006 with Robert Johnson and Mitch Mustain, but even that year there was actually an injured returning starter in Casey Dick. Dick eventually wrestled the job away from Mustain when he returned, despite Mustain’s undefeated record…which set off a wave of discontent in another story for another day...Even the 2013 battle between Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell did not go on like this.
There’s no controversy 12 years later, just junior Ty Storey and sophomore Cole Kelley trying to make good on what may be the last shot for each of them to win the job. Neither Kelley, 6-7, 260-plus, nor Storey, 6-2, 220, have separated themselves, and while redshirt freshma Dalton Hyatt, 6-4, 192, showed some ability late in Saturday’s scrimmage it is obvious the coaches have opted to give Storey and Kelley the most reps.
“You go every single day, you’re battling somebody, so you just kind of embrace it and you worry about yourself,” Kelley said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “Worry about yourself, and I think me and Ty do a really good job of that.”
“We’ve been competing for a while now, and it’s just another day,” Storey said. “We’re hoping to just keep stacking on good days on good days, and we’ll see what happens.”
In the three scrimmages combined, Storey finished 23 of 46 passing (50 percent) for 329 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception (unofficial stats in first two scrimmages). Kelley went 28 of 48 (58.3 percent) for 354 yards and 7 touchdowns without an interception. Those numbers obviously favor Kelley, but they only show what happed in three scrimmages and don’t reflect his numbers in other game-like scenarios that took place in the other 12 practices.
Starting with the Red-White Game and working back, Storey was 7 of 14 passing for 126 yards and 1 touchdown, 8 of 22 for 95 yards and 1 touchdown with one interception, and 8 of 13 for 108 yards and 1 touchdown in the three scrimmages. Kelley was 10 of 19 for 126 yards and 1 touchdown, 8 of 17 for 91 yards and 2 touchdowns, and 10 of 12 for 137 yards and 4 touchdowns.
"I think both of them bring different strengths," Arkansas coach Chad Morris said on Wednesday. "I thought Cole's last six-seven practices were his best of all of them. I thought Ty started off strong and finished consistently."
So far, walk-ons Austin Aune, Carson Proctor and Jack Lindsey have not factored into the competition, although Aune probably has the most potential of that group. He chose minor league baseball player after signing as a scholarship player with TCU out of high school.
FRESHMEN TO CHALLENGE?
Arkansas will welcome in two true freshmen this summer in John Stephen Jones, 5-10. 175, and Connor Noland, 6-3, 205. It isn’t impossible for a true freshman to win the starting job right off the bat, but it is extremely rare.
Most quarterbacks who start as true freshmen do so during the season. The exceptions are players like No. 1 ranked pro-style QBs in USC’s Matt Barkley and UCLA’s Josh Rosen. Georgia’s Quincey Carter did it as a true freshman, but he had already spent a few years in minor league baseball. And Phillip Rivers is...well...he's Phillip Rivers.
All of the aforementioned quarterbacks also enrolled in school in January to get a head start. Noland and Jones don’t even have playbooks to study yet. And while they could at least sit in on meetings as recruits, once they signed it became against NCAA rules for them to even do that.
One of those players could very well be the starting quarterback at Arkansas someday or maybe even sometime next season, but the odds are stacked against either being named the starting QB at Arkansas for the season opener on Sept. 1 against Eastern Illinois.
“In reality, those guys are a little bit behind, but I think they’ll be able to pick it up just as quick as these other guys do,” offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said. “We’re not going to name the starter, so the job is going to be wide-open. If those guys come in, and they’re picking up the offense and they’re doing the right things, they’ll compete for the job just like anybody else. It’s very realistic. We had DeShawn Watson, he played a lot as a true freshman. Took over about game four or five as a true freshman.”
Not even the great DeShawn Watson was a first game starter as a true freshman, and he also enrolled at Clemson when there was a vacancy at QB.
Noland has been considered to be a possibility to choose professional baseball over football since he was a sophomore, but he has said with a fair amount of confidence for some time that he plans to enroll at Arkansas and take a stab at football and baseball in college. A few days ago he informed all Major League Baseball teams that his plan is to enroll at Arkansas and that they shouldn’t bother drafting him.
“I didn’t talk to him before, but I sure sent him a message after,” Craddock said. “ Just told him that we were really excited to have him. To be honest with you, I was really worried he’d be drafted and go on and we would never see him. I was really worried about that. For him to come out with the statement he made really shows his love for the Razorbacks.”
Unless they want to make it a game day surprise, expect Arkansas to name its starting quarterback approximately two weeks before the first game near the conclusion of preseason camp in August.