Overlooked Jonathan Nance has Austin Allen's trust

By: Jimmy Carter
Published: Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Arkansas receiver Jonathan Nance runs after the catch during a practice Saturday, April 29, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Arkansas receiver Jonathan Nance runs after the catch during a practice Saturday, April 29, 2017, in Fayetteville.

— Jared Cornelius is Arkansas’ lone returning receiver with substantial experience, a proven playmaker entering his senior season.

Jordan Jones is a promising redshirt freshman who may be the fastest player on the team and is a big play waiting to happen.

Sophomore T.J. Hammonds is quick and shifty with the ball in his hands and will line up all over the field when healthy.

Brandon Martin has been dinged up in camp, but was ranked the No. 1 junior college receiver in the nation and was one of the Razorbacks’ prized signees in the 2017 recruiting class.

All of those players entered fall camp with higher profiles than Jonathan Nance.

Nance was Martin's junior college teammate, but wasn't as heralded of a recruit. He started his collegiate career playing defensive back at Southern Miss, but wanted to play on the other side of the ball so he went the JUCO route.

His game doesn’t necessarily have the flair of the others, which made him easy to overlook among the bevy of new faces at receiver. But his play has been hard to overlook the last few weeks, along with the compliments from teammates and coaches who tend to mention big plays he's made after most practices.

Cornelius has been sidelined for fall camp with a back ailment and Nance has stepped up and been more consistently productive than any of the other receivers above. The 6-foot, 182-pound junior has emerged as one of senior quarterback Austin Allen’s favorite targets.

“He’s just a good football player,” Allen said. “He understands coverages, he understands leverages. That’s kind of like a Drew Morgan-type deal where he understands (if) the guy is heavy inside, I’m going to jab this way, go out. He can get open against any type of coverage and when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s pretty special.”

Allen comparing Nance to Morgan, one of his favorite targets in key situations, is high praise.

Nance is one of a handful of receivers working with the first-team offense in camp and has displayed a versatility that makes him a good bet to play this fall. He can line up at all 3 positions, a claim only Cornelius and sophomore Deon Stewart, another starter, can make.

The difference is Cornelius and Stewart have been on campus for multiple years. Nance arrived in the spring semester.

Knowing playing time was up for grabs, he immersed himself in the playbook once he got to Fayetteville.

“I used to come meet with coach (Michael) Smith and he would help me out, but he told me I would have to do it on my own (too),” Nance said. “You can look at it and say you know how to do it. If you go home and study it, you’re really going to know it.

“When I go home, I just look at it before I go to sleep, where to line up, read it.”

That’s paid off. Nance and Allen haven’t had a chance to connect in a game yet, but the quarterback-receiver chemistry is there in camp.

“I feel that, because I’m starting to get more balls in practice,” Nance said. “So I feel like he trusts me to be in the right place and to run the routes at the right yardage and know what’s going on. I feel like we’re on the same page.”

He didn’t arrive on campus with the same reputation as some of the Razorbacks’ other receivers, but his production and his work ethic could lead to Allen targeting him in important situations this year.

“He’s got burst to him, where one-on-one (coverage), I’m kind of looking toward his way,” Allen said. ”He’s gained my trust.”

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