FAYETTEVILLE - Part six of Arkansas News Bureau’s complete and thorough preseason roster report continues today with wide receivers and tight ends, an area Arkansas is better than almost everyone in the Southeastern Conference.
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.
All quotes from wide receivers coach Michael Smith or tight ends coach Barry Lunney, except where noted.
Positional depth chart:
WR1: Drew Morgan, Keon Hatcher, LaMichael Pettway
WR2: Dominique Reed, Cody Hollister, Kofi Boateng/Jordan Jones
Slot: Jared Cornelius, Deon Stewart, Luke Rossi
1. Drew Morgan, senior (6-foot-0, 193 pounds)
Last year: 63 catches for 843 yards, 10 touchdowns
Glance: Morgan does not have the size or speed of an elite SEC wide receiver. He has the numbers and the attitude, and really, that’s all that matters. Morgan came into his own last year when Keon Hatcher was lost for the year in the team’s second game. His 10 touchdown catches led the SEC and his 63 receptions are the third-most in the last eight seasons of any Razorbacks player. He may not duplicate those numbers with a healthy Hatcher back, but he’s the best wide receiver on an absolutely loaded unit.
Quotable: “He started the season he was third guy in, fourth guy in. By the end of the year he was one of the best players in this league because he took advantage of his opportunity. Go into that first game, I anticipate all five of those guys would play. I like the fact he’s a competitor. The bigger moment the more he wants the ball. He loves football. He’s got a chip on his shoulder. Continually tries to prove.”
2. Keon Hatcher, senior (6-2, 207)
Last year: 13 catches for 198 yards, 2 touchdowns (in 2 games, broke foot, out of rest of year)
Glance: Hatcher was a solid option for Brandon Allen two seasons ago, as a junior. That after drops plagued his sophomore. His (first) senior year started dynamite, too. Look at the numbers. But a broken foot against Toledo ruined the rest of the season and now he’s found himself No. 2 on the depth chart behind Morgan. He still might be the best overall receiver on the team, but he has a whole slew of good players around him, too, he might not see the snaps a typical No. 1 or No. 2 would.
Quotable: “My challenge to Keon is to become more vocal with the (receivers) group and more vocal with the team. Because a lot of guys have respect for what he’s been through and what he’s done here in our program. I’m happy with his progress.”
3. Dominique Reed, senior (6-3, 175)
Last year: 28 catches for 535 yards, 6 touchdowns
Glance: Reed probably isn’t going to a 50-catch player. Not only are there too many good players at wide receiver, his route-running is still subject to scrutiny. Now, that said, he’s still a good wide receiver who figured things almost suddenly last year halfway through. And his speed is terrifying to opposing defenses. If he gets the ball in space, no one is going to catch him. He showed that last year. Expect a similar yards-per-catch average and probably about 12-15 more catches.
Quotable: “He’s in a tough battle right now with Cody (Hollister). But it’s great competition. It’s also adding depth. My biggest thing for him is I want to see him get a little bit bigger. Trying to get him to put some weight on.” - Michael Smith
“I think one thing that has been good for him is that competition. He looks around and goes ‘oh, boy.’ I think that makes everybody better. He needs to know, he needs to practice at a high level. When he gets his opportunity in the game he’s got to make plays. I think he figured it out real quick. He started to know what he was doing. Started to play faster.” - offensive coordinator Dan Enos
4. Jared Cornelius, junior (5-11, 212)
Last year: 24 catches for 393 yards, 3 touchdowns (9 games)
Glance: Cornelius is the workman of the group. He has the talent to play on the outside, but his size and quick feet fit him best in the slot. Would have been a 30-catch player last year if not for a broken arm. He’s the only non-senior in the top five, so a big season would go a long ways in securing his job as the No. 1 in 2017. A big season, more importantly, would go a long way in getting Arkansas to a winning year in 2016.
Quotable: “He’s a guy that, I think because of him playing in the slot mostly, he gets kind of behind the scenes. Jared has been really big for us. His versatility. The thing that has been really really encouraging about this group right now is that these guys are all interchangeable. We can play them all at every position on the field.”
5. Cody Hollister, senior (6-4, 209)
Last year: 4 catches for 65 yards (5 games, broke foot, out for rest of year)
Glance: A big, strong-bodied receiver, Hollister can get physical on the perimeter on ways Reed cannot. That’s part of the reason he’s pushed Reed for the starting job opposite Morgan. Coaches loved his spring and despite his limited numbers last year, expect to see much more this season. He may not have 30 catches. But 20 isn’t unlikely and those with a couple touchdowns.
Quotable: “The thing i think that has created the biggest competition is Cody has just been so focused. Whatever he did from the end of the season to now, he’s really just been locked in. That’s what kind of put him back into position to get into the rotation with the starting receiving corps. It’s a good problem to have. I’m excited I got him back for another year.”
6. Deon Stewart, redshirt freshman (5-11, 164)
Last year: Redshirted
Glance: Stewart is the clear prize of the 2015 skill-position recruiting class. At least right now. He’s liable to make his mark as a redshirt freshman both at wide receiver in the slot and in the return game. Arkansas coaches won’t have to rush him into either role, especially receiving, though, because of the depth and skill already in place. His size limits his numbers long-term, but it appears he will be a staple all four years.
Quotable: “The thing about Deon, I’d like him to become a little bit more assertive. But he’s a smooth, really good receiver. I’m just trying to bring him along faster, because he’s a guy I think can get in our rotation because of his athletic ability, his speed. He’s got great hips and tremendous feet. The guy catches the ball well. Out of my young guys, he’s playing the best.”
7. Luke Rossi, sophomore (5-11, 197)
Last year: Played in 12 games, made one start at wide receiver. No receiving stats
Glance: Rossi is a good practice player in the slot and good enough to get some attention in-game, too. A walk-on, he could be passed by some of the younger scholarship players, but coaches like his speed and quickness in there. Wouldn’t be a shock to see him fight off the youthful challengers.
8.Jordan Jones, freshman (6-1, 184)
Last year: N/A
Glance: Jones is a bit skinny, so a redshirt to add strength is possible. He was an absolute burner in high school at 4A Smackover and was a four-star recruit. Hard to say what he brings to Arkansas in year one, though, as he wasn’t an early-enrollee.
9. La’Michael Pettway, redshirt freshman (6-2, 216)
Last year: Redshirted
Glance: Pettway struggled to grasp things his first year in Fayetteville. Things are taking time and he isn’t currently projected to see much time at all at wide receiver. His size is a blessing and if he figures things out, he can be a productive player in the long run.
Quotable: “Michael is still a little bit slower in his process, but he’s getting better. He’s learning it. He’s sitting behind Keon and Jared and Drew right now so he’s got a little bit further to go.”
10. Kofi Boateng, freshman (6-1, 183)
Last year: N/A
Glance: Almost a carbon-copy of Jones on paper. Boateng is also thin and a redshirt candidate. He’s also a top 100 player in the state of Texas as part of his recruiting class, which isn’t shabby. Boateng also wasn’t an early enrollee, so no one has seen him on the field yet.
11. Cameron Colbert, sophomore (6-1, 208)
Last year: Two games. No statistics
Glance: Colbert is a good-sized wide receiver who is used to playing at up-tempo offenses from high school (Pulaski Academy). He will be a scout-team player in this, his third year.
12. Tobias Enlow, freshman (6-1, 200)
Last year: N/A
Glance: Enlow, like fellow North Little Rock Razorback Juan Day, missed his senior year of high school with an anterior-cruciate ligament injury. It’s been two years since he’s seen a football field, so this season will largely be getting back into the mode for him.
13. D’Vone McClure, freshman (6-2, 219)
Last year: N/A
14. Troy Allison, sophomore (6-1, 193)
Last year: Moved from quarterback. Did not play in a game
Glance: Allison, a high-school quarterback, is currently a practice player.
1. Jeremy Sprinkle, senior (6-6, 256)
Last year: 27 catches for 389 yards, 6 touchdowns
Glance: Sprinkle might be the best tight end in the country. He is certainly among that group, anyway. He spent the last two seasons as a safety valve for quarterback Brandon Allen (that dink pass out to the flat is one everyone who calls the Hogs knows, etched in their brain). Now he’s The Man, with Hunter Henry gone. No one is worried how he’ll step into the role. His size, speed and smarts are all there.
Quotable: “He’s earned the right to be our every down tight end. Now, when we go to two tight end sets, what does that puzzle look like? Is he going to be the movement tight end, where one of these guys steps up and handles the in-line role? Or is he going to have to be the in-line guy role? You know what I’m saying? there’s a combination there that we don’t have the combo to yet.”
2. Jack Kraus, sophomore (6-5, 252)
Last year: 11 games, no statistics
Glance: Kraus, a grinder, has a leg up on the three members of the 2015 recruiting class at this position. He’s been banged up a good portion of this calendar year after suffering a knee injury during bowl practices. He doesn’t have the upside as some of those ‘15 guys, but they all have defeciencies where Kraus doesn’t, too. This No. 2 tight-end job is an important one in a Bielema offense. One of the most interesting spots to watch all year.
Quotable: “Gonna be a guy that’s going to be in the mix. Was getting better each and every week last year. Happy with his development and had that unfortunate injury. Those three freshmen will be given that opportunity. We’ve got a good little group. I agree with you and with coach, we need to have somebody.” - Dan Enos
3a. Cheyenne O’Grady, redshirt freshman (6-4, 251)
Last year: Redshirted
Glance: O’Grady’s Arkansas career started with a preseason alcohol arrest. It included a stint in the doghouse during the season. Enough things went funky for O’Grady he proclaimed he’s no longer “C.J.,” the name he’d gone by most of his life. He’s now a grown-up “Cheyenne.” Bielema hopes that growing up happens on the field, because if it does, with his receiving ability, he could be a star. That’s a long way away for now, though.
Quotable: “He’s certainly had his fair share of flashes already. And you guys know he flashes. His strength is when that ball’s in a contested zone, I’m going to put my money on him coming down with it, because he’s a great ball receiver. We’ve just got to continue to get better in the other things it takes to play tight end here. That’s knowing the offense, it’s being physical, straining, being technical in the run game.”
3a. Will Gragg, redshirt freshman (6-4, 254)
Last year: Redshirted
Glance: Gragg, younger brother of Chris, who played tight end at Arkansas a few years ago, has the pedigree and the size. He can play in-line tight end or motion. Things were slow coming in his first year, though. His blocking wasn’t quite as good as hoped. The sheen isn’t worn off or anything, but taking a next step is important this year.
Quotable: “Will’s a very good athlete. I tell you, Will has impressed me. He’s a very competitive kid. I think he likes the game. He likes the throw game a little bit more than the run game and that’s what we’ve got to get him good on. We’re going to ask him to do some things on the back side that he’s just got to be a little bit more powerful. But from him, last spring to this spring is like a different human being.” - Bret Bielema
3a. Austin Cantrell, redshirt freshman (6-4, 269)
Last year: Redshirted
Glance: Cantrell is still at tight end despite calls for movement elsewhere - defensive end and fullback being the primary two possible landing spots. He is a mighty strong player and it’s shown in his blocking ability. May not have the upside of the other two.
Quotable: “He’s played his fair share of in-line tight end for us. He’s actually done quite well in the in-line position blocking. Him, Jeremy and C.J., all three of those guys are really having to go back and forth and play both positions for us.”
4. Anthony Antwine, junior (6-4, 222)
Last year: 12 games, no statistics
Glance: Antwine is a Chris Gragg type. He started at Arkansas as a wide receiver. He’s one of the most talked-about walk-ons on the team by coaches and expect he will play in most games again this year. It is, however, unlikely he garners much attention offensively.
5. Greyson Gunter, freshman (6-6, 232)
Last year: N/A
Glance: Gunter will provide depth and a good option on the scout team as he’s an almost-guaranteed redshirt candidate.
Follow Eric on Twitter: @ericwbolin