This is part of a series profiling the 2012 Arkansas Razorback football team.
Fayetteville, Ark. – During the SEC Media Days Arkansas head coach John L. Smith made it clear that Marquel Wade, Maudrecus Humphrey, and Andrew Peterson (tight end) were off the team for at least the duration of the 2012 college football season if not permanently because they were not listed within the new Arkansas Razorback Media Guide.
Those same sentiments were echoed again by Smith at the annual Razorback Golf Scramble at Paradise Valley Golf and Athletic Club on Thursday.
The loss of Wade and Humphrey leaves the Hogs once overflowing depth chart at wide receiver depleted of game experienced players. In an effort to shore up a roster spot that was the deepest position on the 2011 team the Arkansas coaching staff is now looking for current roster options at wide receiver. Among the many getting looks is second string quarterback Brandon Mitchell.
Mitchell, 6’4”, 230 pounds, is a junior that spent 2011 as Tyler Wilson’s backup. He attempted 32 passes, completing 22, while throwing for 271 yards, 2 scores, and 1 interception.
Mitchell’s praises were sung by last year’s offensive coordinator Garrick McGee on ESPN’s The Year of the Quarterback. McGee claimed Mitchell to be one of the better quarterbacks in the nation not just one of the best backup signal callers in college football.
Now Arkansas is looking into the possibility of using Mitchell’s athletic ability split out wide instead of under center.
The emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Allen as a quality replacement for Wilson or Mitchell allows the coaching staff room to experiment with Mitchell as an option at wide receiver.
Arkansas lost wide receivers Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, and Joe Adams to graduation. Redshirt freshman Kane Whitehurst was dismissed from the team after an incident in April that included possession of marijuana. Quinta Funderburk was granted a release from his scholarship in early May.
With the departure of receivers Wade and Humphrey, both listed at second string after spring practices, the Hogs lost seven wide receivers in less than six months. The Razorbacks have nine returning wide receivers listed on their 2012 roster as opposed to the fifteen returning players listed this time last year, not including 2011 signees.
Wright led the SEC in receiving totaling 66 receptions, a league high 1,117 yards, and conference best 12 touchdowns. Adams was eighth in the conference with 652 receiving yards on 54 catches with 4 receiving touchdowns. Childs was 42nd in the SEC with 240 receiving yards on 21 receptions as he tried to work his way back into game shape throughout his senior season.
Finding options on the team to fill those glaring holes may be tough for offensive coordinator Paul Petrino. If all the Division-I offensive coordinators in 2012 a smart bet is to believe in Petrino’s ability to get the most out of the talent on the roster one way or another.
Another option for Petrino is senior running back Ronnie Wingo Jr. Wilson has always shown an exceptional aptitude for catching passes out of the backfield be it from former quarterback Ryan Mallett or current Arkansas gunslinger Tyler Wilson. Over the past two seasons Wingo has caught 20 or more passes totaling 274 receiving yards in 2010 and 187 in 2011.
At 6’3”, 231 pounds with reported 4.4 forty-yard speed, Wingo’s six career receiving touchdowns should warrant him a look at receiver in certain passing situations.
Throughout his career at Arkansas Wingo has repeatedly shown a knack for making open field moves and using next level speed to find the end zone once in space. Perhaps splitting Wingo out for a full season will be an optimal move for both Arkansas and the backup running back?
Arkansas’ go-to playmaker will be first-team preseason receiver Cobi Hamilton. Hamilton, 6’3”, 209 pounds, was third on the team last year in total receiving yards with 542 while hauling in 34 passes.
Hamilton was among the league leaders in passing yards per catch with players totaling 500 or more receiving yards. His 15.9 yard per play average in 2011 was the lowest of his career. In 2010 he posted an average of 19.7 per play and in 2009 he had an average of 18.3. If Hamilton is back around his 2010 average with Jarius Wright type numbers great things should be happening on the field for Arkansas’ offense.
Wilson will need Hamilton to be more than just a big play receiver in 2012. To sustain drives Wilson will need his go-to receiver to be able to move the chains on third down plays and make catches in traffic. Can Hamilton find the first down marker and sit in the zone like Wright did last season for the Hogs?
Another big question for Hamilton is will he be able to adjust to being the No. 1 receiver on Arkansas’ squad? He will receive extra attention and double teams from opposing defenses until Wilson can find a second and third receiver to step up once the lights are on and the coin has been flipped.
Reports are Hamilton has finally found the weight room after four years on campus. Hamilton has made the commitment to be bigger and stronger in 2012. His breakaway speed has never been questioned. Adding muscle mass to his big frame should help him stay strong throughout the season while aiding in bump and run coverage allowing him to get clean releases off the line of scrimmage each and every time.
Hamilton’s presence on the field goes beyond catching passes. He has the ability to stretch the field which opens up holes for other receivers. The beneficiary of the open holes should be tight end Chris Gragg.
Gragg, 6’3”, 236 pounds, is listed as a preseason second team All-SEC player by SEC coaches. Gragg was consistent throughout 2011 catching at least two passes in every game except for the New Mexico game which ended without a reception for the preseason Mackey Award watch list candidate and the Cotton Bowl when he was held to one catch for 26 yards.
Gragg’s performance against Mississippi State, 8 catches for 119 yards with 1 touchdown, should be more the norm in 2012. Average games for the big tight end should be something along the lines of his five catch 62 yard performance against Vanderbilt.
Wilson should have more time in the pocket to throw this season than last. With three returning full-time starters returning (Peacock, Swanson, and Bailey) on the offensive line with a list of players with game experience to start at right tackle and left guard, Wilson will be able to utilize the entire field and allow plays to develop for Gragg and slot receivers instead of rushing throws as seen in 2011.
Junior receiver Javontee Herndon (6’1”, 204 pounds) will be the second most experienced receiver returning to the field for the Hogs. In 2011 he caught 8 passes for 137 yards for a 17.1 yard per catch average.
Herndon showed some game day jitters in 2011 dropping some catchable passes. With another spring practice under his belt along with an upcoming fall practice schedule Herndon’s role within the offense should be more defined allowing him to make plays instead of think his way through the offense. Hopefully the extra reps will secure his confidence on game days as well.
Julian Horton ended spring practices listed as a starting wide receiver opposite Hamilton. Horton, a junior listed at 6’1, 194 pounds, had nine catches last year for a total of 85 yards.
Behind Gragg at tight end is junior Austin Tate. Tate caught seven passes for 53 yards. Tate’s career best game also came against Mississippi State’s inexperienced linebackers in 2011. Tate caught two passes for 24 yards with a long of 16.
Grey-shirt freshman Demetrius Dean got a lot of attention during spring practices. Coaches commented on his great hands, nice pass routes, and lack of conditioning. If Dean comes to camp in August in shape he could push Tate for time on the field.
In an effort to replenish the roster of new talent the Arkansas coaching staff signed five wide receivers to their 2012 recruiting class. Two receivers, perhaps more, are expected to make an immediate impact for the Razorbacks, junior college transfer Demetrius Wilson and freshman Keon Hatcher.
Hatcher, 6’1”, 195 pounds, caught 100 passes in 2011 and found the end zone 21 times. Wilson, 6’2”, 170 pounds, was a two-time first-team All-ACCAC selection out of Glendale Community College.
Arkansas Razorback Recruits 2012 at Wide Receiver
WR D’Arthur Cowan, 3-star, 6’1’, 175 pounds, Olive Branch, MS
WR Keon Hatcher, 4-star, 6’1”, 195 pounds, Owasso, OK
WR Eric Hawkins, 3-star, 6’5”, 220, Longview, TX
WR Demetrius Wilson, 3-star, 6’2”, 170 pounds, Glendale, AZ
WR McKale McKay, 3-star, 6’6”, 192 pounds, Louisville, KY
Player to Watch for…
Wide receiver McKale McKay brings a lot of talent and intrigue to Arkansas’ campus. At 6’6”, 192 pounds, McKay is big, strong, and fast. His height advantage could give Tyler Wilson a red zone target in the corner of the end zone that the Razorbacks have not had since Childs was healthy before being injured during his junior season.
McKay was a two-sport star in high school playing basketball and baseball and will attempt to do both for the Razorbacks.
As with all incoming players time will tell how each responds once the pads are on in fall practices with the real test coming once the ball is kicked off come September 1.