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Andy Hodges

Keeping running quarterbacks healthy key at most important position

Putting hopes on mobile quarterbacks can prove risky because they have to stay healthy against most physical defenses in country.

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Since spring practice, Sam Pittman has left no wiggle room saying KJ Jefferson will be the starting quarterback.

“Does he have competition?” he said at SEC Media Days and it wasn’t really a question. “You’re dang right he’s got competition, but he has proven that he can play well in the Southeastern Conference in a game. He started one game, but he played well during that game.”

There’s a lot of hope among coaches and fans that Missouri game to end the 2020 season that was “almost” a win was enough to be the basis for a guy ready to take over the team.

The problem is you can’t measure “almost” because almost doesn’t really matter.

Jefferson was 18-of-33 for 274 yards with three touchdowns plus 32 yards rushing with another touchdown. He put 48 points on the board. Missouri’s game-winning field goal as time ran out wasn’t his fault.

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The two-point conversion pass he threw would have given the Razorbacks their fourth win of the season, but it came with 43 seconds left and Missouri managed to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired.

His mobility is what has everybody excited.

“We just have to have that in the back of our mind whenever we do drop back to pass the ball,” offensive tackle Myron Cunningham said. “We just have to have that in our mind that he could be scrambling. So we just have to be ready for it.”

Jefferson was a highly-rated four-star coming out of North Panola, Mississippi, but hadn’t really done anything against the type of players he would face in the SEC.

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Without much high-level coaching, he didn’t progress in a freshman season where he got beat up in appearances against Mississippi State and LSU. If nothing else, Jefferson found out he couldn’t run over SEC defenders like he did in high school.

Now everybody is hoping their confidence shows up on the field on Saturdays this fall.

“KJ’s matured a lot,” super senior Grant Morgan said at Media Days. “He’s stepped up and he’s being the leader he needs to be.”

All of that confidence in him is really positive hope. Nobody knows how it’s going to play out over a season, but a lot of fans are hanging their hats on his ability to avoid pass rushers and make something out of nothing pays big dividends.

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The problem with hanging your hopes on a mobile quarterback these days is the athleticism of defenses in the league. They will get to quarterbacks that don’t get away from them.

Behind Jefferson is Malik Hornsby, who has less time on the field, but maybe more athleticism.

How this season plays out is going to be in direct proportion to how the quarterback position performs. The talent at wide receiver is there, the offensive line is going to be more experienced but there are questions.

A lot of questions.

But not a lot of answers.

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