FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas wide receiver Keon Hatcher knows he’s going to get an opportunity to play right away in 2012.
The freshman understands the depth chart at wide receiver is thinner than normal with three receivers now on NFL rosters. And the offseason departures and dismissals of a group that included Marquel Wade, Maudrecus Humphrey and Quinta Funderburk cleared even more space.
So when Arkansas opens practice this afternoon, Hatcher wants to show the coaching staff traits he feels will be worthy of playing time.
“I work hard. I don’t take any plays off. And I can make plays,” Hatcher said Wednesday.
The sentiment is shared by each member of the Razorbacks’ 2012 signing class, many of whom will be counted on to provide depth and stability at a number of key positions.
The group will take the practice field at 3 p.m. today, kicking off a four-day stretch in which Arkansas will divide workouts between the newcomers and veterans. The team will come together for its first full workout Monday.
The four-day stretch - which gives the newcomers more one-on-one time with Arkansas coaches — should be valuable in a program which won’t be shy about putting its best players on the field whether they’re freshmen or seniors.
Arkansas leaned on freshmen heavily during the early portion of its four-year run under former coach Bobby Petrino, playing as many as 17 in 2008. The number has trimmed since, but there were still nine freshmen who suited up last year in a group which included cornerback Tevin Mitchel, defensive end Trey Flowers, and offensive linemen Brey Cook and Mitch Smothers.
So there’s a good chance a handful of freshmen will play this season. And linebacker Otha Peters said he wants to be one of them.
“I just need to give it all I’ve got every single play,” Peters said. “The little things you do are going to help the team.”
Arkansas enters preseason practice needing help at receiver, linebacker and in the defensive backfield. It means young players at those positions — Peters and Hatcher included — will especially get long looks throughout the month.
Peters said the chance to prove his worth is all he’s asking for this preseason.
“I’ve been out here working hard and I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to play as a freshman,” Peters said of participating in offseason conditioning drills this summer. “It all depends on camp, how I do. My performance will let you know if I play or not.”
The freshmen spent portions, if not all, of the summer on campus getting acclimated to school and the offseason conditioning program.
The experience will come in handy when the newcomers work out with temperatures certain to top the 100-degree mark this afternoon. Senior Alfred Davis said the team ran during the hottest part of the day over the summer and Peters added it has helped them prepare.
“We’re really ready,” Peters said. “We know it’s going to be hot. But we’re going to stick it out, work hard and compete.”
Hatcher said he and the rest of the new receivers have worked closely with veteran Cobi Hamilton on position specific drills, too, learning as much as possible for the preseason. He also is working with his three roommates — Peters, running back Jonathan Williams and cornerback Will Hines — to be prepared for practices. The long grind for playing time begins today, but Hatcher, Peters and the rest of Arkansas’ freshmen carry lofty goals.
“We want to make each other better,” Hatcher said. “We all want to go to the SEC championship and we want to win a national championship.”