Hedlund bounces back on FGs; backup QB working at punter

By: Matt Jones
Published: Saturday, August 12, 2017
Arkansas junior kicker Cole Hedlund lines up for a field goal attempt Saturday, April 15, 2017, during practice at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Arkansas junior kicker Cole Hedlund lines up for a field goal attempt Saturday, April 15, 2017, during practice at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

— After missing last week's scrimmage with a what was described as a soft tissue injury, junior Cole Hedlund made a strong case to be Arkansas' starting kicker on Saturday.

Hedlund went 4-for-4 during the open portion of the Razorbacks' scrimmage, good on kicks of 36, 38, 43 and 48 yards - all from the left hash mark where he has struggled some during his career, most famously on a short kick that bounced off the upright in the fourth quarter at TCU last September. Hedlund was the starting kicker at the beginning of last season and went 5 of 7, but was overtaken by Adam McFain midway through the season.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said it wasn't intentional to give Hedlund so much work off the left hash mark and he kicked two from each hash during an earlier portion of the scrimmage that was closed to media and fans. Bielema didn't say how many of those kicks Hedlund made or missed, but he did acknowledge Hedlund likely has a leg up on the competition with freshman walk-on Blake Mazza.

All of Hedlund's makes during the open portion Saturday looked to be down the middle and with plenty of distance to spare.

"If we had to play tomorrow I'd probably put (Hedlund) first out there, but my man (Mazza) has done some nice stuff," Bielema said.

"Cole came back and hit the ball very, very well. Blake Mazza has hit it extremely well."

Hedlund's three longest kicks came at the end of the scrimmage as teammates and coaches lined up around the kickers, screaming and blowing whistles to create more pressure and simulate crowd noise. Mazza was 2-for-3 at the end of the scrimmage, with makes from 33 and 43, and a miss wide right from 48 yards.

The 43-yard make was a low line drive that just barely made it over the crossbar. All of Mazza's kicks were off the right hash mark.

"When you have that many bodies out there when we try to do that rapid fire and have everybody yelling and screaming, it's just pandemonium out there," Bielema said, "...so we just keep them on the (same) hashes when we've got everybody out there."

Both kickers are ahead of sophomore Connor Limpert in the battle for the field goal job. Limpert's only field goal attempt during the open portion Saturday was wide left on a 53-yard attempt.

But Limpert, who kicks from the left side, has taken over the No. 1 spot on kickoffs ahead of Mazza. Limpert handled 43 of the Razorbacks' 72 kickoffs last season and finished the year with a 61.8-yard average, but only nine touchbacks.

Limpert didn't practice any kickoffs during the open portion Saturday, but was observed kicking the ball about seven yards deep into the end zone at times during last week's scrimmage.

"He's been pretty good," Bielema said of Limpert. "I've kind of just let him devote himself to kicking that ball. A left-handed kicker on kickoff puts a little different spin on it."

The Razorbacks' No. 1 punter, Blake Johnson, struggled some Saturday, including one punt from just past midfield that was low and only traveled 36 yards. But Bielema said the scrimmage was an aberration from the way Johnson has kicked the ball so far this preseason.

"Blake didn't punt the ball very well today, but he had been one of the most productive guys until today," Bielema said. "Obviously today counted because it was the biggest crowd we've had, so we'll address that and continue to make him move forward."

Behind Johnson is backup quarterback Cole Kelley, who Bielema said kicked two punts between 50 and 55 yards during the closed portion of the scrimmage. Arkansas listed quarterback Austin Allen as a backup punter on some depth charts last season.

"(Kelley) turns it over pretty well," Bielema said. "I'm not saying his operation time was great...and then you get the element back there that he can throw the football, that's kind of neat to play with.

"He looked pretty damn good punting today."

Bielema said Limpert also could factor into the equation at punter.

"He can do rugby to the left, which is a nice added feature," Bielema said.

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