For his last (presumably) preseason trick on the eve of his first game as Arkansas Razorback football CEO, Chad Morris took one minor storyline out of the mix this week by announcing that 6-foot-7 Louisiana sophomore Cole Kelley would be the Hogs' starting quarterback against Eastern Illinois. However, Morris added, onetime coveted prospect Ty Storey, a junior from Charleston who got a lot of looks from big programs before signing in 2015, was also going to see his first extended action on the field as well, and that the competition would be ongoing.
As evidence of the latter, there's considerable belief that youngsters like Daulton Hyatt, John Stephen Jones or Connor Noland all could get some action, too, if the top two guys don't excel.
If this suggests indecision or instability at the most critical position on the field, don't forget that the Razorbacks had a farcical experience in an opener 17 years ago that eventually paved the way for one of the program's greatest-ever playmakers to rise to the starting role. Against UNLV in 2001, with the Razorbacks fresh off a distressing 6-6 season that started showing the chinks in Houston Nutt's coaching armor in full relief, the embattled coach trotted out four different guys to take snaps against the Rebels. Zak Clark started and Ryan Sorahan finished a comeback win in War Memorial Stadium that warm August evening just days before 9/11 transpired, and in between, Nutt scrambled around and also briefly utilized diminutive wide receiver Gerald Howard as an option quarterback and yanked a redshirt off then-touted freshman Tarvaris Jackson, who later transferred and catapulted his way into a decent NFL career as a backup and spot starter.
The guy who didn't play was a rangy "athlete" — that's how the scouting services had him pegged because he had a memorably funky delivery of the ball and uncommon speed — from Van Buren by way of Fort Smith Northside. About a month later, Matt Jones was making it onto the field as a gadget player in upset wins over Auburn and South Carolina, and then he authored the seven-overtime spectacular against Ole Miss that made him a bit of a state legend as the Hogs surged to six straight wins after a 1-3 start and made the Cotton Bowl. Clark and Jones were well employed the entirety of the year as a two-headed signal-calling monster, with Clark being the more precise traditional passer and Jones being the scrambling dervish who could evade trouble. But going into 2002 the questions about the viability of a two-quarterback system ramped up and Clark elected to transfer to the University of Central Arkansas, where he was a Division II All-American and Harlon Hill Trophy finalist.
For his money, Clark says alternating QBs can be a bit of a thorny issue.
"It's hard for the team to rally around one and it not divide the locker room," said Clark, now the head coach at Springdale High, noting that an exception would exist if the team ran two fundamentally distinct offenses. "I think that's why we saw the wildcat package become popular (but) now we see more dual threat QBs, anyway."
Clark said he appreciated what Morris is trying to do by encouraging healthy competition for the starting role, but if at this point no one has emerged as the week-in, week-out guy, it could become an issue as the season winds onward. Kelley definitely enters the year with the most game experience, having played a relatively significant role in three of the Hogs' four wins last fall, but Storey arguably came into the program with more polish. Now those two are being pushed from beneath by the incoming talent Morris has amassed, and the first game offers up an opponent in Eastern Illinois that, to be honest, is a second- or even third-tier FCS foe that won't likely give either of the top two on the depth chart an ordeal.
Of course, injuries and discipline are part of the equation, too, and Kelley is coming off a season where he got beat up on the field and off it, getting a late-season DWI and suspension that allowed Austin Allen to retake the reins late in the year. So Storey has to be prepared and focused regardless, but as one former Hog sees it, one of them is going to have to wrestle the job away from the other for the sake of short- and long-term stability.