FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas is nearing its season opener with Georgia in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Scott Fountain coordinates the special teams. He hasn’t announced who will handle the punting, kicking and snapping duties. It appears that grad transfer AJ Reed will handle the placements, transfer George Caratan will punt and Jordan Silver will be the snapper. Also Caratan is holding for the placements.
Reed was 15 of 18 on field goals in 2019 at Duke and perfect on 34 point after touchdowns. Fountain was asked how consistent Reed has been in preseason camp?
“AJ’s done a good job,” Fountain said. “He had one week in there where he had a little bit of a lull. But for the most part he’s been a consistent guy. He’s a guy that at Duke as a freshman had kind of an up and down year. And the thing I like about him that he did at Duke, he battled his way back. He really finished at Duke with a phenomenal career. I think he finished up about 15 of 18 last year. Kicked a 51-yarder in the Bama game. So been pleased with him. He’s brought some good stability to that position, and having a guy that’s been some big games, that means a lot at that position.”
When Fountain had Rodrigo Blankenship at Georgia he kicked him three days a week to make sure his leg stayed fresh for the Saturday games. Is Reed having a similar plan?
“Each kid is different. With Rod, and I’m sure you’ve heard the story, where he was a 33 percent touchback guy,” Fountain said. “Then we went to really managing the leg and turned it into more of a three-day-a-week routine and he went from 33 to I think 73 to 91, 89 percent. So we’re certainly managing the kickers and the punters in practice every day, as well as the long snappers. Our goal is when we get to the game on Saturday, we’re fresh and they can play their best game. Now, will that equal great kicks and touchbacks, etcetera? I don’t know. We’ll see as we move on.”
Fountain is also high on Matthew Phillips who is a redshirt sophomore, and true freshman Vito Calvaruso who are competing with Reed for the kickoff job.
“We’re working on it,” Fountain said. “We’re going to try to turn the page to Georgia pretty quick, and at that point we’re going to try to start sliding people into positions. Those two guys have certainly done a good job of competing. We’ll kind of see who wins it out, but I’ve been real pleased with Matthew Phillips. He’s come in and really worked hard. I’m not sure what it was like in the past for him and his approach, but real pleased with him. I think we have a real solid kicker there.”Reed, Phillips and true freshman Vito Calvaruso have all worked on kickoffs as well.”
Caratan transferred to Arkansas from Michigan in the offseason and seems to have taken hold of the punting job. Sam Loy and Reid Bauer handled that last year for the Hogs, but Caratan has proven to have a very strong leg.
“He’s certainly well traveled,” Fountain said. “He’s a guy that out of high school, I’m not sure what the situation was, but he went to a prep school. I think in Connecticut. Then he goes to Michigan. We kind of get in the market, I’m looking, hey, what are we going to do here. So I really kind of looked for either a grad transfer or a transfer. And so I kind of see what’s on the market. I talk to the people I know that know about these guys.
“So then once I kind of start looking at George, I called and visited with a guy at Michigan. I called and visited with a coach at the prep school. I called and visited with the high school coach. Just tried to do my due diligence the best I can. But I think George is a guy that’s coming in, he’s competing, doing what we want him to do there. He’s been a real good pick up for us. We’re really pleased to have him in our program.”
Caratan, who is roommates with Reed, has handled the holding for placements as well. Fountain talked about the advantages of that.
“Well, what I’ve always done is I’ve always had the punters hold,” Fountain said. “So, if they couldn’t hold at all or they could hold or what not, I’ve always kind of forced them and taught them how to hold the football. Now, we’ve certainly used some quarterbacks, as well.
“And when I was with Coach (Kirby) Smart, he had always liked the quarterback because he felt like he had a better opportunity with a fake, but Jake Camarda held for us last two years. Then Cam Nizialek did the year before, Which were punters, but our backup holder was a quarterback. So, we’re certainly working the punters and working some of our quarterbacks, as well. But they’re together all day, right, so it gives them an opportunity. When the quarterback’s over there getting after it, we can get on our field and they can really focus and try to get really good at the trade.”
Fountain continued to explain why he prefers the holder to be the punter.
“This is why,” Fountain said. “That’s a great question, and I’m going to give you a great answer. If I have an entire practice – let’s say we have a two-hour practice – and for one hour and-a-half, I’m not with the offense, I’m not with the defense. Those guys can get over there for an hour and-a-half if we need it and just work on kicking and holding. So, I’d rather have a guy that gets comfortable, that’s with him all the time, as opposed to working with a guy right after practice when he’s exhausted and you try to get four holds out of him. So, that’s always been my approach. And that’s really what they do in the NFL, as well, so I kind of model that after them, starting around 10-11 years ago.”
Silver is a junior from Branson (Mo.) who has been with the team since he walked on as a true freshman. Fountain has been impressed with Silver.
“I’ve been real pleased with Jordan,” Fountain said. “He’s a kid that when I first got here, I was really pleased with his leadership ability. He’s one of the guys in my room that was coming back that had played some, so I was really drawn to his leadership. He tried to lead the group.
“But I’ve also, we’ve tried to work on his weaknesses. Those weaknesses are that we really want him to be a better cover guy. So we’ve spent a lot of time on that. He’s still doing a great job with our snapping and been very pleased with that, but he’s been a real – kind of like bringing in AJ, a guy who’s been in some games – we’ve got Jordan who’s been in some games here. You’ve got two guys who’ve been there and done that. They’re all battling for positions and nobody is given anything, they’ve got to earn it, but I’ve been real, real pleased with him.”
The Hogs and Georgia will kickoff the season on Saturday, Sept. 26, in Reynolds Razorback Stadium at 3 p.m. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.