FAYETTEVILLE - Part five of Arkansas News Bureau’s complete and thorough preseason roster report continues today with special teams.

Arkansas’ fall camp begins in a couple weeks with 127 players (right now) in Year Four of the Bret Bielema regime. Each season Bielema has been on-campus, the Razorbacks have gotten better, increased their win total year-over-year. Projections for 2016 have Arkansas anywhere between sixth and second in the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division.

A flood of new faces dot the roster, nevermind the little-used reserves from last year stepping into starting roles. Keeping track of the 127, or even the 105 who will be the technical team by season’s start, is difficult.

Here’s a helper.

Every day from now until Razorbacks Media Day on August 7, Arkansas News Bureau is going to provide a position-by-position analysis of every player on the roster. The reports will include scouting notices, player dimensions, and, on occasion, coach’s comments. The idea is to arm readers with the most complete and objective information ahead of the 2016 season.

Here is the positional outlook of each of the five primary spots on the Razorbacks special teams unit.


1. Cole Hedlund, sophomore (5-foot-10, 171 pounds)

Last year: 4 kickoffs, 128 yards (32 average); 9 of 15 field goals; 58 of 58 extra points

Glance: Hedlund has his detractors and his defenders. Some blame him outright for the team’s poor rate and low number on field goal tries. Some blame his blockers. As with most things, the truth is probably in the middle somewhere. Fact is, Hedlund can’t have another season a percentage in the 60s. He can’t have just one field goal from longer than 27 yards. And, probably, if Arkansas is going to maximize its point total, he can’t be last in the SEC in attempts again. He doesn’t appear to be losing his job any time soon, but things have to get better all around for this area to be considered anything more than a weakness.

2. Adam McFain, senior (6-0, 187)

Last year: 2 kickoffs, 115 yards (57.5 average)

Glance: McFain drew Bielema’s ire last year becoming injured while playing disc golf. The man who led the team in field goals and kickoffs as a sophomore saw almost no time as a junior. And while it was a near-lock Hedlund would be the new man on placekicking duties, the kickoff role was handed to the clearly weaker-footed Lane Saling. Saling is no longer with the team and McFain should have the best opportunity to regain that role, assuming no more off-the-field issues.

3. Connor Limpert, freshman (6-1, 176)

Last year: N/A

Glance: Limpert was the No. 35 kicker in the 2016 recruiting class. He is at Arkansas as a walk-on.


1. Toby Baker, senior

Last year: 43 punts for 1,172 yards (41.2 average)

Glance: Ask people who watch closely and someone is going to tell you Baker is one of the best players on the team. That person should not immediately be dismissed. A case can be made. Baker doesn’t have the strongest leg in the SEC by any means, but his directional punting was nearly perfect last year. And he finished middle-of-the-pack in the league in gross average, too. The weird thing? Outside Deatrich Wise Jr. at defensive end, the next most likely All-SEC pick, right now, is Baker.

2. Blake Johnson, redshirt freshman

Last year: Redshirted

Glance: Johnson had a preseason alcohol-related arrest and did not play last year. He appeared to be far behind Baker in the pecking order during the spring.

Kick returner

1. Dominique Reed, senior

Last year: 10 returns for 222 yards (22.2 average)

Glance: Reed is an absolute burner, maybe the fastest player in the Southeastern Conference. Such speed makes him a dream-type candidate for the role. He was OK at it last year. The 22.2 yards-per-return average was fair, but would have ranked him just ninth in the league had the 10 returns been enough to qualify. Still, images of Reed tearing down the middle untouched are easy to conjure.

2. Deon Stewart, redshirt freshman

Last year: Redshirted

Glance: Stewart’s ability here is all gleaned on what’s been said about him and his build. The return game was seen for a grand total of about 20 minutes - if that - this spring, so it’s hard to say what Stewart could bring to the table. But he’s mentioned by coach Bret Bielema practically every time the subject is broached. His slight stature may make him slippery enough, plus his speed, to elude would-be tacklers. But, really, anything with him is a guess right now.

3. Keon Hatcher, senior

Last year: No returns before injury

Glance: Little has been said about Hatcher being in the return game and he may not figure in there. But Arkansas ran out seven different players there last year, so the job is clearly open. Hatcher was decent at it as a junior, getting six returns for 139 yards (a 23.17 average), better than any of the regular options the Razorbacks had last year.

4. Duwop Mitchell, junior

Last year: 1 return for 23 yards

Glance: Coaches have been trying to find a way to get the ball in Mitchell’s hands every year he’s been on campus. This is another option, albeit an unlikely one.

Punt returner

1. Jared Cornelius, junior

Last year: 7 returns for 93 yards (13.3 average)

Glance: Cornelius is the do-it-all player for Arkansas. Slot guy. Takes end arounds. Returns punts. He’s one of the most underrated players on the team, accordingly, and while the Arkansas kick return game leaves some things to be desired, a full season of Cornelius returning punts, well, last year’s results were promising.

2. DJ Dean, senior

Last year: 7 returns for 93 yards (13.3 average)

Glance: It’s an odd coincidence Dean and Cornelius had the exact same punt return totals, both in returns and yardage, last year. The difference in where they’re ranked here comes in that Cornelius was the main returner the last three games of the year, when Dean didn’t have a single punt return. Don’t be shocked if it’s a shared role again this year.

3. Deon Stewart, redshirt freshman

Last year: Redshirted

Glance: See the above on him. Only, his build may be more conducive to punt returning, where lithe quickness is a desired quality.


1. Matt Emrich, senior (6-3, 198)

2. Robert Decker, junior (6-0, 249)

3. George Madden, redshirt freshman (6-1, 230)

Summary: Emrich was the long-snapper of record last year. That will continue. Snaps had little significance then, which is the preferred outcome for coaches.

Follow Eric on Twitter: @ericwbolin