By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — A position that appeared to be the troublesome spot on offense much of the offseason, spring drills and early preseason now appears to likely be a team strength and that is wide receiver.
Warren Thompson was the leading returner at wide receiver with 19 receptions for 304 yards and two touchdowns. Gone were Treylon Burks, De’Vion Warren and Tyson Morris who combined to catch 105 passes for 1,684 yards and 13 touchdowns.
However, Arkansas added Jadon Haselwood from Oklahoma at midterm. True freshman Quincy McAdoo enrolled at midterm from Clarendon. Ketron Jackson, Jaedon Wilson and Bryce Stephens all returned from the Class of 2021. Jackson caught five passes for 97 yards and one touchdown. Wilson and Stephens redshirted though Stephens played in four games and caught three passes.
Then Fayetteville’s Isaiah Sategna and Kennesaw (Ga.) North Cobb’s Sam Mbake signed in December then enrolled in June. Matt Landers transferred in from Toledo and has been an instant hit. Now, Arkansas has at least nine wide receivers ready to make a contribution in 2022 when their number is called. Landon Rogers and Harper Cole are also very talented receivers. Thompson said he heard all the talk about the wide receivers being a question mark.
“I think when we heard that, that the wide receivers were the biggest question mark, I think that’s when we took it personally,” Thompson said. “Everybody in the room, we made it our mission to be great every day and be consistent. I think that’s what it was.”
Last season, Burks caught 66 passes for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns to lead the team. While no one may catch 66 passes this season could the wide receivers be deeper as a unit this year?
“It’s a lot of talent everywhere,” Thompson said. “I feel like everybody can make a play at any time.”
Landers came to Arkansas from Toledo where he caught 20 passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns. Landers talked about how it has gone for him since enrolling in June.
“I feel like I’ve adjusted well,” Landers said. “These guys are like my brothers. They took me in with open arms. They just made me feel welcome. I didn’t really come here looking for anything in particular. Just hard work I’ve been putting in. The coaching staff has been behind me. It’s been great.”
A lot of Landers’ catches came late last season at Toledo, but he’s looking to start hot at Arkansas this fall.
“I feel like I can definitely get off to a fast start,” Landers said. “The way we’re approaching practice every day, we’re working hard and playing fast. At Toledo, I don’t really know the situation, but I made the most of my opportunities when they presented themselves.”
Kendal Briles, Arkansas’ offensive coordinator, had high praise for Thompson recently. Briles was at Florida State for one season and thus was aware of Thompson when he entered 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.”
Thompson was asked on Tuesday what he has done to improve so much?
“I wouldn’t say anything really changed, I just take it personal now to win and win a lot of games,” Thompson said. “I want the team to be great, I want to be great. I think that’s what it was.”
Even Sam Pittman had praise for the leaps that Thompson has made at receiver this preseason.
“But I never would have thought Warren Thompson would be the player that he is right now from a year ago,” Pittman said. “It’s a credit to him.”
Thompson responded to what Pittman had to say about him.
“I just tried to change my mentality and my, like, mental approach to the game,” Thompson said. “So that’s great to hear that from him, but I had that. I knew I had to be better since I played the last game, Penn State. So I knew I had to get better from that moment. And I made that my mission and my goal.”
One thing Landers has figured out that Thompson did last season and that is what kind of quarterback the Razorbacks have in KJ Jefferson.
“Most definitely different,” Landers said of Jefferson. “His size, his athletic ability and his arm strength. So, he’s a great quarterback.”
At 6-foot-5, 197-pounds, Landers talked about the receivers he has modeled his game after.
“I really kind of model my game off of a lot of receivers,” Landers said. “I’m not going to say anyone in particular, but my game is pretty versatile. I can run intermediate routes, short routes and deep routes, anywhere Coach needs me.”
When Landers takes the field against Cincinnati on Saturday, Sept. 3, it will be his second game in Razorback Stadium. He was on Georgia when the Bulldogs faced Pittman in his first game as head coach of the Hogs.
“It was real crazy,” Landers said. “You know, I never thought I’d be a Razorback. But I’m happy to be a Razorback. and I remember every moment you know, from when we stepped on the field, the game, seeing the coaches, seeing the players. So it’s a good feeling.”
The Hogs will return to the practice fields on Wednesday.