By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman and everyone else had questions about wide receiver when fall practice started, but due to the emergence of two players not here in the spring plus one who was showing vast potential the position is considered a strength now.
Pittman knew Jadon Haselwood, Ketron Jackson and Warren Thompson were going to be in the wide receiver rotation this fall even before drills started. But since the practices started Toledo transfer Matt Landers and former Fayetteville standout Isaiah Sategna have emerged as potential standouts. The other one who maybe has made the biggest stride of all is redshirt freshman Jaedon Wilson. This group has played so well all of a sudden it isn’t a must to get Malik Hornsby a lot of reps at wide receiver.
“But I’m going to tell you something everything affects everything,” Pittman said. “It does. Something over here affects something over here. What’s happened in the wide receiver room now is Jaedon Wilson has started playing ball. And you’ve got Sategna coming on. You’ve got Warren Thompson playing as good as he has right now. Haselwood the same thing. He was ‘a guy’ honestly in spring ball. Now he’s a football, he’s a better football player. You’ve got Ketron. You’ve got Matt Landers.
“So now all of a sudden you’ve got all these wideouts that are playing pretty good ball. That doesn’t mean that Malik won’t continue to go out there. It’s just, it’s harder to put him out there if we have to take somebody off the field. And my thinking before was that he would be by far the best one we had out there. If he still is, we’re going to put him out there. If not, we’ll decide that a little bit after Saturday, a little bit. We’re going to put him out there, just how much.”
Others such as Bryce Stephens, Sam Mbake, Quincey McAdoo, Landon Rogers and Harper Cole are scholarship wide receivers getting looks as well in practice. Arkansas signed three wide receivers from high school in each of the past two classes and added two transfers in the 2022 class. That has helped solidify the spot despite the loss of Treylon Burks, Tyson Morris and De’Vion Warren.
“Well, I think they’re still working at it,” Pittman said. “Jaedon Wilson and Ketron Jackson are two guys who kind of stick out right there. I’ve said it before, I like the young three that came in, with Sategna and McAdoo and Mbake. I like those three guys. Bryce Stephens is a year old than them, but I think we’ve hit on those guys. This group of three that we have at wide out. But those three wideouts that we have, have learned so much faster than the guys before them. Ketron and them won’t mind me telling you because I’ve talked about it to them. But these guys, like Mbake and Sategna, weren’t here in the spring and to be where they’re at mentally after six practices is kind of incredible because we’re not slowing installation down for the freshmen that came in, I can promise you that.”
Much like Feleipe Franks did when he enrolled at Arkansas at midterm and almost immediately took over a leadership role, Haselwood has done the same thing. He led OU with 39 catches and six touchdown receptions in 2021 with the grabs going for 399 yards. Pittman is impressed with a wide receiver doing that.
“Well, he’s been around the game for a long time,” Pittman said. “I would think it would be kind of hard. Now, Feleipe did it. But he did it because he’s a quarterback, or part of it because he’s a quarterback. You have to. But being a vocal leader for a transfer guy, I think at times would be hard early. It was hard for him early because he’s in spring ball and trying to get the feel of everybody and all that. I think he is vocal because it puts pressure on himself. I think he means what he says. What he says, I don’t mean that. But I think he’s a guy that if he says it, he’s got to back it up. In other words, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do this, we have to be this, we have to be this.’ Well, the guy saying that is the one that’s got to do it because I’m saying it. I think he likes putting pressure on himself. He likes helping the team, but I think he likes and enjoys pressure.”
Thompson came over from Florida State last year and is the leading wide receiver returning as far as statistics. He caught 19 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns in 2021. Pittman thinks he is even better now.
“As improved as anybody,” Pittman said. “He was a guy, to this point, now, and I think he’ll keep continuing… I think he’s in a really good space. I think he’s comfortable. I think he went through a year last year where he didn’t know if he wanted to be here, go home, who’s my friends. He had a lot of things going on, I think, last year. You’d have to talk to him. But I think he’s in a good space. He’s always been very talented, but he’s catching a contested ball and catching some you’re going, ‘Man, how’d he catch that one?’ He’s always been fast, he hasn’t always used it, but he is now. So I’ve been really pleased with him. You’d have to ask KJ it because I think KJ looks for him now.”
The Razorbacks will practice Friday afternoon and then hold a closed scrimmage on Saturday.