FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas receivers Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon understand the perception surrounding their position this preseason.
Yes, the Razorbacks have Cobi Hamilton back and the senior is primed for a big year as Arkansas’ No. 1 receiver. And, yes, tight end Chris Gragg will factor into the passing attack much more.
But then there’s a distinct dropoff — and plenty of uncertainty — with Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs practicing in NFL training camps.
Horton and Herndon respectfully disagree.
“I think there’s an opportunity for us to prove everyone wrong,” Herndon said during Arkansas’ on-campus media day. “We lost a lot of great receivers, but it’s time for us to step in and keep the receiver university going.”
Arkansas’ new-look receiving corps is determined to prove it remains the Southeastern Conference’s best despite the departure of the record-setting trio and the recent dismissal of potential star Marquel Wade after an offseason arrest.
The group has a solid foundation back with Hamilton in the lead role, but Horton, Herndon, and a crop of young receivers believe Arkansas also has depth and talent behind him.
It starts with the juniors, who have waited patiently their turn while watching Wright, Adams and Childs for two years. Horton and Herndon — who were who were members of a 2010 signing class which includes the now-departed Wade and Maudrecus Humphrey — have combined for 21 catches for 307 yards in their careers. They know there should be chances for much more in 2012.
“We’ve been waiting for a long time,” Horton said. “From going to high school and being the prolific player in high school, to coming here and having to wait and be patient. “Now, this year, just to have the opportunity to make plays and be a starter. It feels good.”
Arkansas receivers coach Kris Cinkovich said the duo has acted like it since the spring, too. He has been impressed with the way the two have reacted to the opportunity for more playing time, although they’ll be facing plenty of competition when the Razorbacks hold their first full-team practice of the preseason this morning.
Arkansas, knowing it faced a transition year at receiver, hit the recruiting trail hard and roped in five newcomers in its 2012 class.
The group includes junior college transfer Demetrius Wilson and four freshmen (Keon Hatcher, Eric Hawkins, D’Arthur Cowan and Mekale McKay).
“There’s guys behind them now that are young and are trying to take that time,” Cinkovich said of Horton and Humphrey. “That’s just the way it is. “The guys that come through and perform the best will be the ones that play for us.”
The newcomers aren’t lacking confidence, either.
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said last week the group reminded him of Wright, Adams and Childs in 2008 when they stepped on campus and played immediately. Wilson will get that opportunity as a junior college transfer. But Cinkovich said Arkansas want at least one more newcomer in the rotation with Hamilton, Horton, Herndon and sophomore Keante Minor.
So McKay said the freshmen are eager to fight for playing time with the veterans this month.
“It’s not just competition among freshman receivers, but we’re also looking to be starters,” McKay said. “We all have potential to be starters. We don’t just compete against each other, we compete against the older guys too.”
It leaves Cinkovich confident Arkansas will have another strong group on the field for quarterback Tyler Wilson to throw to in 2012. He said the Razorbacks will “find a way to be successful at receiver. I have no doubt.”
Neither do Horton or Herndon, who intend to make sure Arkansas doesn’t miss its memorable 2008 class of wide receivers when it steps on the field without them for the first time.
“We expect no dropoff,” Horton said. “We’re going to keep working hard and grinding each and every day so that there is no dropoff.”