FAYETTEVILLE — No current Razorback answers opportunity’s knock like Grant Morgan opening the door.
An unimposing looking, 5-11, 220 University of Arkansas redshirt freshman walk-on linebacker from Greenwood heretofore most known as fabled former Razorbacks receiver Drew Morgan’s bigger, little brother, Grant Morgan closed last Saturday’s scrimmage as a first-teamer times two.
Because incumbent starting weakside Will linebacker Dre Greenlaw now contends with a sidelining thigh injury added to mending the foot Greenlaw broke twice last year, Morgan opened the scrimmage at first-team weakside Will.
Morgan ended the scrimmage at first-team Mike middle linebacker because starting middle ‘backer Di’Jon “Scoota” Harris injured a knee and backup middle ‘backer Josh Harris of Pine Bluff Watson Chapel his back.
Making eight tackles, three behind the line of scrimmage, Morgan seized his opportunities equally adroitly.
“He’s taken every advantage of it,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “Grant can play the Mike or the Will spot and play both equally well. He’s certainly a guy that showed up today.”
After unimposing looking Drew Morgan, now a NFL rookie with the Miami Dolphins, spent 2015 and 2016 as Arkansas’ top receiver with 63 and 65 catches, Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema marvels that another Morgan exceeds expectations.
“ Grant Morgan has been exciting,” Bielema said. “He’s a guy that shows up play after play.”
But from knowing Drew and seeing Grant as a redshirt last fall and the background on Grant provided by the Greenwood coaches, Bielema, linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves and Rhoads know they could have taken it for granted that Grant would rise to the occasion.
“ I think Vernon and Paul would tell you that he is probably one of the more intelligent players on our defensive side of the football,” Bielema said. “Just knows every position inside and out. I was talking with the coaches at Greenwood and they made the comment that Grant during his time there probably knew the offense and defense and special teams better than any coach that was there. That’s just the kind of kid he is.”
Hargreaves said Morgan not only is a book-smart player but also instinctive.
“ He is a smart football player,’ Hargreaves said. “He knows what to do. I think he’s got really good instincts and he’s tough and he loves to play.”
Just knowing what to do and how to do it puts Morgan ahead of the game of many a bigger and faster player.
“I’m excited for him,” Hargreaves said. “I think for a guy like him as much as he loves to play the game it’s going to be a good deal.”
So does Morgan.
“Yes, sir, I feel I’m taking advantage of it,” Morgan said of opportunities’ knocks. “Learning the scheme early helped me out and I’m learning to take advantage of it early and just play football.”
Wherever they put him.
“I’m playing both the Mike and Will positions and learning both because Coach Hargreaves always says, ‘It’s not the position you play but the next best linebacker going in.” Morgan said. “So I’m just trying to be that next best linebacker.”
Which spot does he prefer?
“I like the Will but it’s just that I’ve played that so much I feel comfortable,” Morgan said, noting Mike and Will are about the same in Rhoads’ 3-4 defense. “But they are about the same thing really. It’s just different personnel that they want on the field at certain times. I can play either one. In the 3-4 scheme it’s a balanced up scheme where you literally can have the same type of linebacker on each side and it won’t hurt you at all. It really has fit us well with Scoota and me or Scoota and Dre. It has really fit our defense well.”
Morgan has fit the defense really well, though not every play, Morgan opined.
“ I think I did well today but I missed a couple of tackles I could have gotten better,” Morgan said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “I’ll just have to learn from it and move on.”
Bielema and crew should be relieved Morgan didn’t move on to a scholarship offer elsewhere instead of UA walking on from Greenwood.
“I had Air Force, UCA, Tulsa and a lot of D2 schools like Pitt State (Pittsburg State of Pittsburg, Kan.). Good schools but I wanted to play in the SEC. I wanted to play with my brother and to do good on my own. I saw that he took advantage of his opportunity and I wanted to take advantage of mine, too.”
So far he is.