By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - It had been believed that 2017 listed as senior captain Arkansas defensive back Kevin Richardson of Jacksonville had played his last college game when the Razorbacks closed their season losing to Missouri the day after Thanksgiving at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
But on Thursday’s first spring practice under new coach Chad Morris and new defensive coordinator John Chavis, there was Richardson, practicing with the Razorbacks and at a variety of positions. It seemed much like his past five years matriculating at every position in the secondary under former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and former Arkansas defensive coordinators Robb Smith and Paul Rhoads.
In addition to redshirting as a freshman walk-on in 2013 in Bielema’s first Arkansas season, Richardson missed the entire 2016 season after tearing pectoral muscles during the season opener. So on the basis that he’s missed two seasons in five years, the UA is petitioning the NCAA and SEC for a sixth season for Richardson and has him practicing this spring.
Does Richardson practicing mean he’s now certified eligible for the 2018 season?
“No, not yet,” Morris said. “Not fully. But he's been cleared to practice. And so he's got to go through, I guess, a meeting that's coming up. But he's been cleared to practice.”
Asked what position Richardson was practicing as the Razorbacks evolve from last year’s 3-4 defensive scheme to Chavis’ 4-3, Morris replied, “He's been an outside backer and some safety work as well, and coach's nickel-sam position.”
Richardson, with three lettering seasons advancing from walk-on to on scholarship and finally a senior captain representing the Razorbacks at SEC media days, would be a huge plus for the Razorbacks on the field and off it if eligible for 2018.
A WORKING DRONE
Morris was asked about the drone he has hovering about at practices on display for media during the early periods of Thursday’s practice before it was closed to media.
Morris explained he used drones as part of practice filming while he was offensive coordinator at Clemson and then head coach at SMU.
“It’s always been a great teaching tool for us,” Morris said. “So we’ll do a whole lot of video study with our drone film. There’s different level that we will fly it out. Some will fly at about eight, nine feet high to where it kind of gives exactly what the quarterback is looking at. Other times we fly it extremely high because, especially in special teams, we want to get a great top down look and it moves with the ball. It’s a great video teaching tool.”
The sped up practice pace that Morris and his hurry-up, no-huddle offense is a novelty that Morris had to adjust a bit for awhile Thursday.
“We slowed down a little bit there to kind of get them lined up and going from drill to drill,” Morris said. “We had to stop a few things and kind of say, 'No, this is the way we do it.' But for the most part, we went through all our periods. Some of the periods were a little bit longer than what I wanted to. But I knew Practice One would.”
Morris said those on the staff that he didn’t bring with him from SMU acknowledged the pace was new to them, too.
“I definitely think our coaches, especially those who haven’t been with me in the past, they were just as awestruck by the pace of practice as the players were,” Morris said. “And that’s OK. As a matter of fact, I had a couple of them say, ‘Man, I got plenty of exercise in practice running around here. So great energy. I was really proud of our players the way they responded to the first day.”
FULL PADS SATURDAY
Thursday’s first of 15 spring practices was NCAA mandated to be non-contact in shorts.
The Razorbacks, off today, will be in full pads Saturday.
“There will be what we call a 50/50 day,” Morris said. “Half the practice we could go live, the other half would be a non-live practice, a ‘thud’ practice. That’s when we say keep them off the ground. And periods will vary.
"It won’t be like the first half is live. We may have period one live and then we may not go live again until period 12. I’m anticipating probably about 20 minutes, about five maybe four or five periods of live work Saturday just to see them in some live situations.”
CAPPS AND GUIDRY OUT
Because of injuries, defensive tackle Austin Capps and defensive end Briston Guidry are not practicing at the spring drills’ outset.