The Razorback receiver corps could make some serious noise in the SEC.
FAYETTEVILLE — If this were the 1990s, a whole marketing strategy would have surrounded the Arkansas wide receiving corps. Like the offensive line from last year, these Razorbacks would have been on the front of the media guide with a whole campaign pushing it.
In Sync. Dickson Street Boys. New Hogs on the Block.
Arkansas has five - count ‘em - five wide receivers who can all legitimately claim to be big-timers in the Southeastern Conference. That’s Drew Morgan, Keon Hatcher, Jared Cornelius, Dominique Reed and Cody Hollister. Four are seniors. One is a junior (Cornelius). Between them, they make up the most experienced roster of wideouts in the SEC, if not the most talented, depending on your persuasion.
Drew is the self-assured leader. Always grinning and psyching up the crowd.
Keon is the old hat and steady hand, always dependable. Ready for a final go.
Jared is the jack-of-all-trades, a multi-faceted type.
Dominique’s the flashy one, ready to break out a solo at any moment.
Cody is the new guy, ready to hop in the fray.
“We have a lot of different players that have a lot of different games. Each one of us are different,” Hatcher said. “We have different things to bring to the table and we all can make plays. I feel like that’s what makes us different.”
They all have their foibles, certainly. But what good boy-band doesn’t?
Morgan led the SEC in touchdown catches last year with 10. He’s the team’s leading returning receiver (63 receptions last year) and a third-team All-SEC selection, preseason. Trick with him is keeping him calm for long enough. His quarterback loves it.
“Drew’s his own person. He’s always got the Juice. He’s never really calmed down ever,” Austin Allen said. He chuckled and smiled the whole way through the answer.
Morgan’s intensity is part of what makes him a fan favorite. Even his coaches bust him, mostly good-naturedly, about his cocksure attitude. It’s never gotten him in trouble, so why not, they figured. Morgan is a producer.
Hatcher is the comeback kid. He appeared to be well on his way to an all-league selection - granted, through just a game and a half - last year before breaking his foot. Hatcher was the team leader in receptions two years ago and was the No. 1 before being hurt. Now a fifth-year senior after being granted a medical redshirt last year, he’s now trying to break back into things and has done so through the spring and fall. Coaches know what they’re getting with him.
Reed had not been around a lot lately. Not up close, anyway. Truth is, he’s had a rough go of things the last few months. He spent a good chunk of the spring and parts of the fall in coach Bret Bielema’s doghouse. When he was making his way out, an old injury cropped back up and derailed that, too. But his speed makes him an absolute terror. He led the team in yards-per-catch last year and is destined to do it again as long as he can remain in good graces.
Cornelius is unheralded. He doesn’t have Morgan’s numbers, Hatcher’s leadership role or Reed’s speed. He’s the slot guy. Cornelius is adept at getting underneath coverages, taking end-arounds and returning punts. On most other teams in the league, he’s an exterior guy. And he’s one year away from being The Man in Fayetteville.
Then there is Hollister. He’s the biggest of the bunch, but he’s also the least experienced. Hollister spent the early parts of last season as the sixth or seventh choice at wide receiver, registering only four catches in five games. The year before he had 13 in 13. But when Reed was fighting things, Hollister stepped in enough to the point the job opposite Morgan and Hatcher was his for most of the last six months.
There are the next generation, too: Jordan Jones, Deon Stewart, D’Vone McClure. Wide receiver is Arkansas’ offensive strength this year and everyone knows it.
What it isn’t, at least nationally right now, is considered one of the nation’s best. And that makes sense up to a certain point. Morgan is the only truly established one. Hatcher had a good 2014, but his 43 catches - which were the team lead - were only 14th-most in the SEC. Cornelius doesn’t put up the electrifying numbers because of so many bodies. Reed, who doesn’t have Morgan’s, Cornelius’ or Hatcher’s past tallies, draws the most attention because he truly is that fast.
And he may hold the key. It’s to-be-determined whether he’s all way back on the right side of the coaches’ fence. If he is, Allen has a real quintet to help things along in his first year as a starter.
Michael Smith is the band manager, or wide receivers coach. Consider this the Going Away Tour.
“To have a group come back with some much depth is the first time in my career I’ve had that much,” Smith said. “The disappointing thing on Saturday will be I don’t have enough balls to give to all of them. I know these guys are going to be unselfish like they’ve always been. They’re going to cheer for each other. They’re going to run hard routes for each other and they’re going to go out there and play well for this football team.”