Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Hogs’ passing game could use better hands
Arkansas receiver Keon Hatcher is taken down by Auburn defender Ryan White as he makes a catch inside the 5 yard line during the second quarter of a Nov. 2, 2013 game at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - The Bobby Petrino era left Arkansas with a legacy of top-notch receivers, but it didn’t leave Bret Bielema any receivers capable of meeting the standards that had been set under the former Razorbacks coach.
After going 5-7 in 2008, the receiving apex under Petrino came in 2009-2011 with wideouts Jarius Wright and Greg Childs of Warren, tight end Chris Gragg of Warren, Mackey Award-winning tight end D.J. Williams (2008-2010) of Central Arkansas Christian; receiver Joe Adams (Central Arkansas Christian) and receiver Cobi Hamilton of Texarkana, Texas.
It seemed as the years went by, the farther Petrino’s recruiters roamed to sign receivers the less productive the newer receivers became.
All of Petrino’s game-breakers had moved on to NFL opportunities when Bielema took over in 2013 and struggled to 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC.
The lack of game-breaking receivers became apparent, but the problems went way beyond just missing a game-breaking threat at the position
“We just want a guy that can consistently catch it,” Bielema said. “You have got to be able to first catch the ball. It’s one thing to have a guy you can count on to make possession changes and first downs and go down in the red zone and catch it and all that jazz, but you have got to be able to catch it, and we just didn’t have a consistent catcher.”
That doesn’t mean it has to stay that way, he said.
“I think you can develop, and you can sure as heck recruit,” Bielema said.
The Hogs recruited at least one player with capabilities last year. Tight end Hunter Henry of Pulaski Academy made the All-SEC freshman team and was Arkansas’ second-leading receiver with 28 catches for 409 yards and 4 touchdowns. That was just behind senior wideout Javontee Herndon, who had 31 catches for 437 yards and 4 touchdowns.
As for the two freshman wideouts Bielema signed for 2013, Melvinson Hartfield was redshirted last season after arriving late while waiting for NCAA Clearinghouse approval and tweeted Thursday that he no longer is on the team. Greenwood’s Drew Morgan will return as a sophomore after lettering last season on special teams.
Heading into the start of the national signing period Wednesday, the Razorbacks have oral commitments from 6-6 receiver Kendrick Edwards of Norland High in Miami and tight end Jack Kraus of Bentonville.
Junior college transfer receiver Cody Hollister of Arizona Western Community College and receiver Jared Cornelius of Shreveport Evangel - who graduated high school in December - enrolled at the UA in January. They are participating in the Razorbacks’ conditioning program and will be able to go through spring practice.
“I am very excited about Cody Hollister and Jared Cornelius, two receivers that caught the ball very effectively prior to coming here,” Bielema said.
Bielema said those who were critical of starting quarterback Brandon Allen last season should take into account his 2013 supporting cast and the shoulder injury that Allen played through during the season.
“One thing that has to get better is all the people around him,” Bielema said.
“They all have to play better around him, and he has to get healthy, too. There were times he wasn’t where he needed to be health-wise, and it affected his game overall.”
Sports, Pages 22 on 02/01/2014