By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — The Razorbacks no longer have Treylon Burks who was one of the best wide receivers to ever play in Fayetteville, but as a group the position may be better in 2022.
Burks, De’Vion Warren and Tyson Morris combined to catch 105 passes for 1,684 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2021. Burks, himself, caught 66 passes for 1,194 yards and 11 touchdowns. The leading wide receiver coming back is Warren Thompson who caught 19 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns. Ketron Jackson caught five passes while Bryce Stephens and Jaquayln Crawford each pulled in three passes.
But Arkansas added Oklahoma’s Jadon Haselwood and Toledo’s Matt Landers while also signing Fayetteville’s Isaiah Sategna, Clarendon’s Quincy McAdoo and Kennesaw (Ga.) North Cobb’s Sam Mbake.
Haselwood led the Sooners with 39 receptions and six touchdown catches. However his receptions only went for 399 yards. But most feel that was more of what the system at OU dictated than Haselwood not being a deep threat. Quarterback KJ Jefferson said Haselwood can definitely stretch the field.
“Haselwood, he can get down the field,” Jefferson said. “He’s a great feed the ball guy. You give him a chance, he’s going to go make a play. Being able to use him in certain situations where he can stretch the ball down the field and just being able to give him a good, catchable ball. A 50-50 ball, knowing he’s going to go up and make a play. He will stretch the field vertical for us.”
Kendal Briles, Arkansas’ offensive coordinator, feels that Kenny Guiton has recruited a very strong room to work with.
“We feel really good,” Briles said. “Coach Guiton has done a tremendous job with that whole group from a recruiting and development standpoint. Those guys are bought in. They’re doing everything from a blocking standpoint, perimeter standpoint, knowledge standpoint, catching the football. We’ve got some guys that can separate and get down the field and make plays. Coming in that was really a weakness we felt like. It was unproven. We’ve had a lot of guys step up. Guys that have been here, as well. Some of the young guys have gotten better on campus, and that’s with Coach (Jamil) Walker and our strength program and what they’ve done all summer. We feel like that’s a strong group now, which going into the spring and fall camp we didn’t feel that way. We’re really excited about the group.”
The 6-foot-5, 197-pound Landers played one season at Toledo after previously being at Georgia. In 2021, Landers caught 20 passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns. Briles is very impressed with the speedy Landers.
“Yeah, I tried to catch him the other day and it didn’t work,” Briles said. “He can run. He’s kind of a guy that scoots. There are guys that are really pretty runners, get their knees really high and run like a track athlete. He’s really not that. Very deceptive speed. We’ve under-thrown him quite a bit just because you don’t think that he’s moving as fast as he is. He had a drop today, but he’s had really strong hands. His work ethic and mental state, really I’ve been incredibly impressed with. The fact that he’s come in here as a summer guy, he didn’t get here in January and go through spring. So he’s had to learn it quick, and I’m really, really proud of how he’s been and bought in to what we’re trying to do. He’s extremely competitive. He thinks he needs the ball on every single play. I respect that, those are guys that feel like they can beat any DB, any coverage all the time. So I expect him to have a really good year.”
Briles was partially responsible for getting Thompson to Arkansas, Thompson was at Florida State so Briles, who was the offensive coordinator there one year, knew about Thompson when he went into the transfer portal.
“To me, Warren’s probably had the most consistent camp of any receiver,” Briles said. “He’s done a really good job. Warren, from last year to where he is right now is a different guy. And not anything from a character standpoint and how he’s acting, but just his knowledge. He sees things, he’s able to do some things on the field instead of just reacting because he really didn’t know what’s going on. He’s seeing things, he’s talking about it. If he misses a route or misses a play that he should’ve had, he’s beating himself up about it. Last year, he might not even know it. It’s completely different where he’s at, and he’s catching the football and he’s 6-3 and can run.”
Jefferson also chimed in on Thompson and also gave a few thoughts on sophomore Ketron Jackson.
“Warren is, I would say what separates him from last camp and this camp is his confidence,” Jefferson said. “At first, last year, he was coming in and just figuring out the system and figuring out everybody, how the offense is, getting around new people and stuff like that. So it kind of took a toll on him a little bit. He got down on himself in certain situations, but now his confidence level is through the roof. Now he’s comfortable, he’s understanding the offense, he understands the system, he knows what’s going on. He knows what plays he needs to make and what plays he needs to help the teammates around him make plays and succeed. Being able to have his confidence level up this camp, that’s what he’s truly excelled at.
“For Ketron, he’s been great on the field and off the field. But on the field, he’s just coming out there each and every day, competing at a high level, taking it on headfirst, head down. He’s just grinding.”
Despite the wide receivers appearing to be a deep group quarterback Malik Hornsby is still getting reps at wide receiver and could make a huge impact there. He has outstanding speed and can stretch the field.
“Malik has had a good camp,” Briles said. “He is playing, he’s still going out there and playing some receiver for us. It helps that some of those guys that weren’t here in the spring, or didn’t perform at high levels in the spring, are doing that now. So it takes a little bit of pressure off of that, but he’s still, he’s a guy that can play multiple positions. He’s doing a really good job at quarterback. You talk about his arm strength and accuracy, we’ve been pleased with it. So, he’s got a role and we’re really excited to have him on the team. I expect some big things from him.”
Former Fayetteville standout Isaiah Sategna has made a very early impact as most thought he would. The state’s top prospect last year has impressed Briles.
“He’s still developing right now,” Briles said. “Really excited about him, he’s going to have a tremendous future. The thing I like about him is he’s as low maintenance as any guy could be. He’s a guy who had, in this day and age, could go different places for different reasons. He’s been extremely low maintenance, love his work ethic, he’s a tough kid, doesn’t say anything, doesn’t complain about anything. He just goes out there and goes to work. Obviously he can run and he’s pretty slippery, but I think the biggest thing I’ve been impressed with is just his toughness. He’s been a tough kid. He makes tough catches, contested catches. He’s going to have a bright future.”
Jefferson also likes what Sategna brings to the field. He caught 100 passes for 1,908 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2021 while helping the Purple Dogs to a state runner-up finish.
“He’s been doing good,” Jefferson said. “Each and every day in camp he’s gotten better. Isaiah is slowing the game down for himself. Being a freshman, everything is happening so fast. You’ve got to try to be able to slow the game down and just play within your game and play within in the system, and then he’ll be good. But so far, so good.”
Briles also praised McAdoo for a catch he made during Friday morning’s practice and what Mbake is doing as well.
“Yeah, he had a great catch,” Briles said. “Just consistency, really consistent. McAdoo, man he’s been awesome to see how his development has been. He’s probably gained 20 pounds since he got on campus. He’s strong, he’s willing, he’s tough as nails. Him and Mbake are really, really tough. Really that whole freshman class with Sategna, those are really tough players, which you’ve got to be. Those guys can run and catch the ball, and they’ve got length, Mbake and McAdoo. So, really excited about where they’re at and Coach Guiton’s development with them.”
Of the three freshmen wide receivers McAdoo was the only one to go through spring drills. Jefferson loves how McAdoo is getting better and better.
“He’s stepped up big time,” Jefferson said. “For him coming in as a freshman and making big-time catches and making big-time plays, I mean, he’s catching onto the offense really well. He’s understanding the assignments. He’s reading the defenses pretty good. Being able to have a guy like that, that’s as young as he is, and to have an impact in fall camp is advantage. I’m just glad and proud that he’s on my team.”
Overall, Jefferson is impressed with how much the wide receivers have progressed and the amount of work they have put in.
“Those guys, I mean, they see the criticism that room gets,” Jefferson said. “Just from last year and coming in. So they see the criticism and they took it head on. Chin in, chest out. They’ve taken it on straight forward. They’ve acted very professional about it. Iron sharpens iron. They’re competing at a very high level, so it just pushes everybody. It’s motivation basically.”
Arkansas will scrimmage on Saturday.