Tuesday, August 29, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Rattler QB to test defense

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – Fans have waited all summer to see how Arkansas’ defense will look under new defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, and they’ll get their first glimpse on Thursday when the Hogs kick off against Florida A&M at 7 p.m. in Little Rock.

While the Rattlers (1-0) won’t be considered a great measuring stick for the Razorbacks, they do have potential big-play threats capable of testing an Arkansas defense that is still adjusting to a new 3-4 scheme.

It all starts with athletic sophomore quarterback Ryan Stanley, who ac-counted for 238 yards and a pair of touchdowns in FAMU’s 29-7 win over Texas Southern last Saturday. Stanley is protected by four multi-year starters on the offensive line and has weapons in junior running back Devin Bowers and senior receivers Brandon Norwood and Chaviss Murphy.

“They looked well-tuned,” Arkansas inside linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves said. “The running back is really good, the quarterback did some good things, and they’ve got a couple of receivers that can make you pay if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do.

“They’re pretty similar to what we’ve kind of been preparing for. I’m sure they’ll have some wrinkles for us on Thursday, but they look pretty much like they did coming out of last year.”

Arkansas senior nickelback Kevin Richardson, a Jacksonville native, said Stanley reminds him of a former SEC standout.

“He kind of reminded me of (former Ole Miss quarterback) Chad Kelley when he ran the ball,” Richardson said. “He’s a guy that can move around and run. We’ve got to defend the quarterback run game just like we do against teams like Ole Miss and Texas A&M.”

Stanley, who rushed for 351 yards and three scores last season, has the running ability that has been known to give Arkansas defenses fits in recent years.

“He’s a winner. He does a good job passing the ball,” outside linebackers coach Chad Walker said. “He can move well. He dropped back there, did a little scrambling for sure. He did a nice job. He’s got good legs.”

Norwood, who was lightly recruited coming out of high school powerhouse Atlanta (Ga.) Cedar Grove, had 458 yards last year and began this season with five receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown last Saturday.

“Oh yeah, (Norwood) can compete at the highest level if he could,” Richardson said. “We’re going to have to play him like we play any other SEC receiver. He’s got the talent, he’s got the skills. He can play.”

Arkansas’ defensive line has a good collection of talented young guys, but only a couple have seen significant game action. In terms of starts, the Hogs’ defensive front will be facing one of the more veteran offensive lines they’ll see all season.

“We’re going to have to be ready,” defensive line coach John Scott Jr. said. “We’re going to have to be right, we’re going to have to be disciplined and assignment sound. Running the stretch and outside zone and things like that we’ve seen. Their O-line, they play well, they’ve been coached up well on their blocking assignments and where they want to go.”

On the other side of the ball, the Rattlers are undersized but have leaders at each level of their defense.

Up front, senior defensive end Elijah Price (6-3, 225) made 15.5 tackles for loss a year ago. Junior outside linebacker Quenteze Gallon (5-10, 205) had 47 stops including nine for lost yardage.

Cornerback Orlando McKinley had four interceptions, including one for a pick-six, and a fumble recovery. The 5-8, 175-pounder is a threat as a kickoff returner, as well.

Thursday’s game will be televised by the SEC Network.