New Hogs push for minutes

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, August 17, 2017
Arkansas receiver Koilan Jackson carries the ball Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, after making a catch during practice at the university's practice field in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas receiver Koilan Jackson carries the ball Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, after making a catch during practice at the university's practice field in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Tailback Chase Hayden, receiver Koilan Jackson, and defensive backs Chevin Calloway and Kamren Curl have emerged as freshman sensations of the Arkansas Razorbacks training camp and appear headed for quality playing time this fall, Coach Bret Bielema said.

That quartet -- along with graduate transfer running back David Williams and three highly regarded transfers in tight end Jeremy Patton, and receivers Jonathan Nance and Brandon Martin -- highlight the newcomers expected to make an impact for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville this season.

Bielema said of the top freshmen after Saturday's scrimmage: "I'm not going to sit them." He reiterated Wednesday new players can work their way up the depth chart.

He also mentioned linebacker Hayden Henry and offensive tackle Ty Clary as other freshmen who could contribute, as well as junior college transfer linebacker Gabe Richardson.

Hayden has had two strong scrimmage performances, running mostly with the second offense, and continued his good work in practice.

Bielema said sophomore Devwah Whaley, the senior Williams and Hayden are essentially running neck and neck on the depth chart.

"I wrote them as 1A, 1B and 1C," said Bielema, referencing their spots on a potential 70-man travel roster. "I really think that all three of them could bring something that could benefit us.

"I do think ... Chase probably has the biggest ability to make something out of nothing, if that was the way it broke down. Devwah's got probably the most experience. I've probably been the most impressed with David Williams' patience, because he hasn't run in a system like ours."

Offensive coordinator Dan Enos said Hayden has been very good throughout camp.

"He has these explosive plays," Enos said. "He's able to make something when plays aren't there. He's able to make yards when it may not be blocked ... but he gets 6 [yards] because he makes the first guy miss.

"He's just got a different element and dimension the way he runs the football. He has a lot of things he needs to improve on continually ... being a freshman. But he has just raw, natural ability with the ball in his hands."

Bielema said during team meetings Friday that he cleared the room of all first-year players and all the players who have started SEC games or "proved they can play winning football in the SEC," leaving guys who have been around at least a year and haven't been big contributors.

"I just said, 'Listen, this is a different time now,' " he said. "Some of these freshmen, we've been able to recruit better athletes, guys that can run, guys that can play, and I'm not going to sit them.

"If you're a guy that's been in the program year two, year three, year four and you haven't done it yet, there's somebody on your heels, and today was a big day to make a step forward."

Jackson caught a 45-yard, one-handed touchdown pass against ace cornerback Ryan Pulley in scrimmage No. 1 and has impressed coaches on both sides of the ball.

"Koilan Jackson, in my opinion, was totally under-recruited," Bielema said. "If Koilan Jackson lived in Dallas or a major metroplex area that had a lot of exposure, my guess is he would have been rated as high as any prospect in the country, just off of what you saw on high school film and stuff."

Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said he and his staff took note of Jackson -- the son of College Football Hall of Famer Keith Jackson -- early.

"Well over a week ago we were saying in our room, 'That kid is going to play for us,' " Rhoads said. "He's a smart player. I think a distinguishing piece with Koilan and Kamren Curl is they're mature, smart, tough freshmen. That gives you a better opportunity, and Koilan has been showing up."

Curl gave up a couple of big-play catches to sophomore wideout La'Michael Pettway in the opening scrimmage, but he rebounded last week and had an impressive full-extension diving interception on a deep ball thrown by Ty Storey.

"It was a great, great play and an even better one because it came after adversity, if you will," said Rhoads, referencing a pass interference call against Curl a couple of plays earlier.

Rhoads said Calloway and Curl have inched ahead of the other freshman defensive backs.

"They are very competitive kids, and they're further ahead from a football knowledge standpoint and the ability to go out and execute all the techniques that I'm asking them to play," Rhoads said.

Receivers coach Michael Smith listed Nance among his top three players, along with sophomores Pettway and Deon Stewart. Patton and Martin were the highest-rated junior college players at their position by ESPN.com.

Clary's work in the weight room and in drills this summer was eye-opening, Bielema said.

"The night I watched when the O-line and D-line competed, the way he was pushing around the sled was pretty impressive," he said.

Henry -- the brother of former Razorback Hunter Henry, winner of the 2015 John Mackey Award -- has impressed the coaching staff with his will to work.

"We had a kickoff drill the other day and he dipped and ripped and beat somebody pretty handily, and you were supposed to tag the bag, and he tackled the bag, rolled through, did a somersault and stood up and posed," Bielema said. "So he's got a little more theatrics than his older brother but still pretty good."

Bielema said one of the more impressive aspects of the freshman class is their work in the classroom.

"At the end of summer, I believe 25 of the 29 guys had over a 3.0 GPA as the incoming freshman class, so they get it done off the field as well," Bielema said.

Sports on 08/17/2017

Discussion

Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.