Hamilton, Gragg lead revamped Arkansas receivers
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)
Finding playmakers to replace the departed trio, who accounted for 465 catches and 7,410 yards in their careers, is near the top of Arkansas' priority list during fall camp. It's a task that was made more difficult by the dismissal of former receiver Marquel Wade following his arrest for burglary in May.
Hamilton, who was often overlooked while serving as an apprentice of sorts the last three seasons, said it's a task he and the rest of the Razorbacks are up for.
''A lot of guys want to make plays and go out there and do it because they've been a hidden secret for a couple of years,'' Hamilton said. ''They've been behind great players, so everybody is excited to go out there and make plays and really just make a name for themselves.''
Arkansas led the Southeastern Conference last year in passing offense for the third straight season, finishing 11-2 and winning the Cotton Bowl over Kansas State. The passing attack was anchored by Adams, Childs and Wright, who gave quarterback Tyler Wilson plenty of options and combined for 141 catches and 2,009 yards.
All three were selected in the fourth round of April's NFL draft, leaving a gaping hole in production entering this season.
Luckily for Arkansas, it also enters the season with a host of experience at the position - most notably in Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg, who combined for 75 catches for 1,060 yards last season. Gragg is the top returning receiver after a 41-catch effort last season, his first as the starter.
''We just have to step up and take their spots, even to another level,'' Gragg said. ''I think with the talent we have as pass catchers, both at receiver and tight end, we can be one of the best groups in the country. As long as we work hard in camp, I think we can fill their void and probably even be better.''
Wade was one of Arkansas' top options in the spring, catching six passes for 136 yards during the spring game. Even before his loss, however, the Razorbacks had begun to look at other options to help fill the receiving void.
One of those options was backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who was well known for his athleticism after seeing action with the Arkansas basketball team in the spring. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound junior and Wilson approached offensive coordinator Paul Petrino about splitting time between quarterback and receiver this summer, an idea Petrino embraced in an attempt to get Mitchell more playing time.
Arkansas coach John L. Smith likes Mitchell's size and said ''he's very, very capable mentally because he knows it all,'' from his time spent as a quarterback learning the playbook.
''It's very fun,'' Mitchell said. ''I get to see it from (the receivers) point of view. They're always talking sometimes about how their tired and I'm telling them to `push, push.' Now I see what they're talking about.''
In addition to Mitchell, the turnover at receiver has presented an opportunity for several other receivers who have waited their time. Juniors Javontee Herndon and Julian Horton top that list, though junior college transfer Demetrius Wilson is also expected to see plenty of action.
Horton said Adams, Childs and Wright are like his ''older brothers,'' and that he's spoken with them while preparing for the season this summer. He also said he learned how to have success in the SEC by watching them the last few seasons.
''We work harder than any other receiving corps in the country,'' Horton said. ''There won't be any dropoff. We're going to work hard and know we've got to step up.''
Arkansas finished ranked No. 5 last season, with its only losses coming to No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 LSU. To get past the Crimson Tide and Tigers in the SEC West, the Razorbacks know they must find a way to match last season's offensive output - when they led the conference in total offense (438.1 yards per game) and scoring (36.8).
''We have full confidence,'' Gragg said. ''We know the team is depending on us, the offense is especially counting on us to take over. We've been doing it for a couple of years. We know we had some guys who did a lot who are gone, but we're ready to step up.''