Playmaker void offers opportunity
FAYETTEVILLE — When Austin Allen drops back to pass these days, he sees new hands everywhere.
With senior receiver Jared Cornelius taking some time off in training camp to rest his sore back, the Arkansas Razorbacks have virtually a whole new fleet of targets in the passing game.
Deon Stewart, the sophomore veteran of the group in Cornelius’ absence, had two catches last season. Fellow sophomore La’Michael Pettway had one. University of Arkansas, Fayetteville offensive coordinator Dan Enos said several players have championed the wideopen wideout competition through three days of camp.
“Jordan Jones has had three days, I mean, I think he’s had four touchdown catches on deep balls,” Enos said. “He’s really flashed and shown speed and run by guys.”
Enos said most of Jones’ big plays have come with the first unit on offense.
“That guy can play,” Allen said. “I’m a big fan of his, and I think he’s gonna make a name for himself this year.”
Jones, Jonathan Nance and Stewart looked to be taking the most reps with the starters during the early portion of Saturday’s first practice in modified pads. Allen said Jones, Nance, T.J. Hammonds and Stewart have all scored during the first three practices, and Enos added that sophomore Brandon Martin has made a big play.
Receivers coach Michael Smith said early this week the receivers might be his most talented at Arkansas, so the competition for playing time is expected to be fierce.
Enos pointed out having a senior quarterback, a veteran offensive front, tight ends with experience and a tailback in Devwah Whaley with quality playing time has helped establish a quick pace for installation.
So we’re trying to go fast with our installation, and the wide receivers are just a little bit behind,” he said. “But they’re not as behind as you would think. They’re doing a good job. I think Deon Stewart has really stepped up and asserted himself here very early, and T.J. Hammonds and Jordan Jones as well.”
Nance and fellow junior college transfer Martin went through spring ball, but the pace of the work has increased.
“Jonathan Nance … and Brandon, both of those guys continue to come, too,” Enos
said. “I think we’re very talented at that position. They’ve got to catch up with what we’re doing, learn it.”
Enos pointed out that a longer camp should be a big benefit for those two, as well as the big crop of freshman wideouts.
Arkansas’ search for offensive players doesn’t stop at receiver.
After losing 1,360-yard rusher Rawleigh Williams to a second neck injury on the final day of spring practice, depth at tailback has become a focal point.
Whaley, who rushed for 602 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman, has entered into a lead role, but Bret Bielema-coached teams have handled three or more
contributing tailbacks in the past.
David Williams, a graduate transfer from South Carolina, has established himself quickly, Enos said.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Enos said. “The guys like him. They respect him, and they like him. It’s hard to do that when he came in the summer late.
“He’s earned the respect of guys very quickly by, I think, keeping his mouth shut and by listening and learning, then by going out on the field and showing those guys he knows what to do and he’s going to play with great effort.”
Center Frank Ragnow pointed out that Whaley has emerged as a leader
and that Williams has been vocal, too.
“David Williams is very good at communication in the pass [protection],” Ragnow said. “I love that about him. And he’s been running the ball hard, too.”
Enos added that freshmen Maleek Williams and Chase Hayden have been “really good” so far and that Hammonds has taken reps in the backfield like he did last year and is a natural.
“T.J., we’ve been using him in a lot of different places and he’s really something with the ball in his hands,” Enos said. “We have a lot of really, really good young skill, and some of those guys will end up playing and helping us this year.”