FAYETTEVILLE -- Four wideouts on Arkansas' roster have battled to release from press coverage against an SEC cornerback or tangled with an SEC safety for a pass over the middle.
Only two of those players, junior Keon Hatcher and sophomore Eric Hawkins, caught passes for the Razorbacks last season.
Demetrius Wilson missed the 2013 season after knee surgery, and the senior is back after a year-long rehabilitation. Sophomore Drew Morgan had a solid fall camp and took game snaps last year but didn't record a catch.
Auditions are open for the least experienced position on the roster, and playing time appears plentiful as the Razorbacks' offense looks to add more balance to what was the SEC's third-best running attack last season.
Arkansas receivers coach Michael Smith is hoping the wideouts bounce back from a season that included too many dropped passes, too many fumbles after runs and blocking that wasn't strong enough or consistent enough.
"You've got to be consistent," Smith said. "That killed us last year as a receiving corps. That falls on my shoulders, but it's something that I think we stressed in the spring time and stressed throughout the summer, and the kids have bought into it."
Quarterback Brandon Allen said the receivers' consistency is vastly improved.
"Last year, I don't know if I had the utmost confidence in them bringing down every pass," Allen said. "This year, it's a night-and-day difference. They're going up, making plays, making tough catches that they normally wouldn't make."
Hatcher is the only wide receiver on the team with 10 or more receptions as a Razorback. He emerged last year with 27 catches for 346 yards and 2 touchdowns, and added 11 carries for 140 yards as the team's most-employed jet sweep ball carrier. But Hatcher also frustrated Coach Bret Bielema with a number of drops and fumbles, like his giveaway after a 50-yard run against South Carolina.
Hatcher's strong performance Monday on the opening day of camp didn't escape Bielema's notice.
"Keon Hatcher, I think, caught every ball that was thrown at him," Bielema said. "That is a very, very positive step in the right direction."
Hatcher turned in a second day without a drop Tuesday.
"He believes it's his time," Smith said.
"I've got to be a leader of this team," Hatcher said."I've got to stay consistent. As far as I'm going to go is how far the receiving corps is going to go."
Wilson had a great start to spring drills after his rehab, but he wore down.
"We probably used him too much early because he looked so darn good," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "We have to be conscious of that as we go into two-a-day camp, not running his legs off."
Wilson, who made one of the standout plays so far with a plant and cut to avoid a tackle, said his reconstructed knee is feeling great.
"I feel like I'm 100 percent now, cutting, planting and doing all the above," he said.
D'Arthur Cowan's dismissal by Bielema this summer after the junior skirted along the border of academic eligibility throughout his Arkansas career made the move of quarterback Damon "Duwop" Mitchell to the receiving corps in the spring all the more logical.
Mitchell's open-field skills and his knowledge of the offense could give the Razorbacks the kind of breakaway threat the offense lacked last season.
"Making him understand how he can help this team out right now. He's embraced it and I'm very excited for him," Smith said. "I'm looking for great things from Duwop, not only as a wide receiver, but I'm going to try to use him some in my return game."
There is also promise in a new batch of receivers, including freshman Jared Cornelius and junior transfer Cody Hollister, early enrollees who both showed good hands throughout spring drills.
Cornelius, who has a chance to start in the slot, also showed good feet and earned the nickname "Sweet Feet" from secondary coach Clay Jennings in the spring.
Hollister led the team in spring by catching the highest percentage of what were deemed "catchable" passes. At 6-4, 208 pounds, Hollister can also provide a more rugged blocking presence in the secondary.
The scholarship freshmen who arrived in the summer -- 6-6 Kendrick Edwards and 6-0 JoJo Robinson -- have obvious assets.
Arkansas lacked a fade route or jump ball kind of receiver last season, and Edwards' height makes him a natural option for those type of passes.
"That's all he did in high school," Smith said. "So he could be in situations where we get him matched up with guys a little bit shorter than he is."
Robinson joins Hawkins, a sprinter on Arkansas' track and field team, as one of the fastest receivers on the team.
"JoJo can definitely run," Bielema said.
Sports on 08/06/2014
Print Headline: Here’s the catch/Hogs’ balance rests with their receivers