By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — Gone are Treylon Burks, De’Vion Warren and Tyson Morris which contributed 105 receptions for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns, but Arkansas could be an improved group of wide receivers.
Warren Thompson returns after catching 19 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns. Ketron Jackson is next with five catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Two transfers though came over and offer big hope at the position. Jadon Haselwood came from Oklahoma and caught 39 passes for 399 yards and six touchdowns. The receptions and touchdown catches both led the Sooners. Matt Landers left Toledo after one season where he caught 20 passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns. Jackson thinks this group could be deeper than the one last year.
“I feel like definitely,” Jackson said. “It’s not one person, it’s the whole room. Everyone can produce and be productive on Saturday.”
Kenny Guiton returns for his second season coaching the Hogs wide receivers. He talked about the group he has this year.
“It’s been pretty good,” Guiton said. “I like the new guys coming up, the freshmen coming in. It’s been a group whose learning curve has jumped tremendously from spring until now. You’ve got some engaged guys. You’ve got guys who want to go compete. It’s a competitive room. Everyone in there knows you can’t half-step it. You’ve got to come and play ball every day. Any type of competition brings the best out of your guys and you always love to see it.”
Haselwood caused a stir in the spring after coming over from OU. Now Landers is the talk of preseason with Haselwood. Landers is 6-foot-5, 197-pounds and has very good speed.
“It’s just different when you’ve got a guy that long, that tall, that fast and can track the ball,” Guiton said. “He’s added to our room something different. I actually think it’s picked up other guys, as well, to say ‘look at that.’ He’s jumped into it, he’s eager to learn every day and he’s getting better and better every day to learn and know how we do things.”
Landers started his career in the SEC where he played two seasons with Georgia before heading to Toledo. Guiton feels Landers’ experience obviously has speeded up the learning curve.
“Exactly, right,” Guiton said. “He played in MAC for a little bit, and coming back to the SEC he knows what to expect. He’s not that bright-eyed kid like everything is surprising him. He knows what to expect, he knows what he needs to learn and I have to be ready for my moment, for my opportunities.”
Guiton had Haselwood last spring and likes how he is now more used to everything at Arkansas and could have a really big season.
“Man, tremendous,” Guiton said. “I think he will see a lot of success throughout the season, and I’m looking forward to it. Just a really, really smart guy who understands ball, knows what you’re trying to get done, and every day he’s getting better and better.”
Jackson is a former four-star from Royse City (Texas) High School. Guiton knows that this sophomore has a ton of potential.
“Man, a guy I’m just excited to see,” Guiton said. “It’s kind of a theme in the room, just being consistent, being who you are. Competing your butts off, and that’s what Ketron has done since he stepped on campus last spring. The jump that he’s made from then to now, man it’s awesome to see. He’s such a good dude that he’s going to say ‘yes sir’ to anything you say and try to go get it done, try to go execute it. Those are the best players, the ones that can hear it, see it, and actually translate it to the field. He’s that type of guy, he’s doing that. He’s reaping benefits from it right now.”
In fairness to Jackson last season he wasn’t completely 100% from a knee injury he suffered in high school. Now he’s healthy and it has shown in the practices.
“It feels good,” Jackson said. “Obviously I came in and it was really tough for me mentally, but now, Coach (Jamil) Walker and the whole strength staff helped me. Shout out to them. They got my leg back right and feeling good, playing good.”
The one thing Guiton wants from Thompson is more consistency. He had several nice catches in 2021, but also had some drops that shouldn’t have happened.
“I’m going to say consistency with the entire group,” Guiton said. “The entire group as a whole. With us being so young, the older guys in the room have come from other places to where that we have to be consistent as a group. Talking to him, that’s one of the biggest words I use in the room with him. Him just being a consistent guy on and off the field is only going to help him on that next level and I think he’s doing those things to make that next step.”
Obviously getting 15 practices in the spring and then working tirelessly in the summer catching balls from quarterbacks on his own, Haselwood could be primed for a big season.
“I would say I was comfortable in the spring, it was just me still learning,” Haselwood said. “I feel like I got mostly everything down pat, so now it’s just me going out there, looking at the coverage and finding a way to get open instead of thinking about what I have on that play.”
Guiton is very impressed with how Haselwood has stepped into the leadership role. Guiton didn’t hesitate to name who is the most vocal leader among his group.
“No. 1 by far would be Jadon Haselwood,” Guiton said. “I mean, he’s stepped in, an older guy who’s played some ball at another place, another conference and things. He’s stepped in. A really, really smart guy who understands what’s going on around him. He steps up and he talks. He’s able to lead guys on. I do think Warren is a leader guy. He’s not a big talker. He’s going to lead by example. He will help the young guys as much as he can. He’s not a rah-rah guy. He’s not that. But he is a guy who’s going to go out there and lead by example, show how it’s done. I’m very proud with where he’s at right now.”
A wildcard in the battle at wide receiver is Malik Hornsby who is the second-team quarterback. Hornsby worked at both quarterback and wide receiver in the spring. How much will Guiton have him in 2022?
“That’s a really good question,” Guiton said. “I mean, he’s different out there. He’s a guy that we want to throw him out there, be smart about it all and let him get a chance to go affect the game, because he has that ability in whatever he’s doing out there, whether it’s quarterback, wideout, split out, whatever it is. He’s got a chance to affect the game in a positive way, and so we want to give him that chance.”
Is it just basically he’s too good to be standing on the sideline while KJ Jefferson is at quarterback?
“Yeah,” Guiton said. “That’s how I feel right now that he’s a guy that he can’t sit over there and watch. He has to get a chance to go affect the game, and we want that chance for him.”
Guiton was asked if Hornsby had attended any wide receiver room meetings?
“No, he’s all quarterback meetings,” Guiton said. “He’s a quarterback. He’s a quarterback. Approximately, I wouldn’t know off the top of my head. We’re trying to get the kid enough reps to know what he’s doing. Go out there, catch a few balls, be able to go out there and compete and go execute.”
Arkansas has three freshmen wide receivers. Quincy McAdoo was at Arkansas in the spring, but Isaiah Sategna and Sam Mbake enrolled in the summer. Sategna was the top player in Arkansas while at Fayetteville in 2021. As a senior, Sategna caught 100 passes for 1,908 yards and 17 touchdowns. He is also a track standout.
“I mean, that’s what we want him to do,” Guiton said of running by guys. “There are types of things that he’s really, really good at with his track background. He’s the kind of kid, he does the kind of things we want to do. Having a really, really good run game when you stick that ball in the gut of the running back, you get one-on-ones on that perimeter, you need guys that can go stretch the field. And he does that. Very, very smart kid that’s picking up on things, learning very fast. Definitely a guy that we’re looking at to keep pushing, keep competing his butt off.
“It’s kind of like that freshman class as a whole, all three of them with McAdoo and Sam Mbake, they all just compete their butts off. They’re ready to learn, they’re ‘yes sir, no sir’ guys that step on the field and try to do exactly what you say. Everything you teach them, I wouldn’t say it’s new to them, but it’s something that they’re trying to get down. If they don’t get it down that day, they’re staying after practice 15 minutes to get it down, or whatever it is. You can just see the ‘want it’ out of those guys. As a coach, you just love to have those kind of guys who want to be great. It makes me want to be even better for them as a coach.”
Arkansas won’t practice on Wednesday, but will return to the drills on Thursday with pads for first time. The first scrimmage will be on Saturday.