Arkansas’ Hocker to handle all kicking duties

Zach Hocker wasted little time coming to the point during his

first meeting with new Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.

Hocker, already one of the most accomplished kickers in

Razorbacks’ history entering his senior season, told Bielema

shortly after his hiring last December that wanted to achieve more.

He wanted to add the job of punter to his field goal and kickoff

duties.

Bielema promised to consider Hocker’s request that day, though

he made it clear he’d have to earn all the jobs. Hocker proved

himself that throughout preseason camp, and when Arkansas opens its

season next week against Louisiana-Lafayette, he’ll be a one-man

ensemble at the kicker position.

The collection of pressure-packed jobs might be more than some

can handle. But Hocker views his newly added duty as just a return

to the same workload he handled in high school.

”I’m going to compete at anything I can,” Hocker said. ”If I

was in the running for a field position, I’m going to try my

hardest to get on the field.”

Hocker’s health was initially one of Bielema’s biggest concerns

as it became clear the kicker was Arkansas’ best option at each

position. To alleviate any worries about overworking him, Bielema

monitored the kicker’s workload during preseason camp.

It’s a philosophy of quality over quantity that Bielema plans to

carry into the season – giving Hocker Wednesdays and Fridays off

from practice during the week in an attempt to keep his right leg

fresh.

”We’ve got to make sure we don’t, obviously, tap out his leg,”

Bielema said.

Hocker enters this season with 287 points in his career, just

seven shy of the school record Bill Burnett set from 1968-70, and

he’s just 12 field goals short of tying Todd Wright’s career school

record of 60.

The Russellville, Ark., native provided an element of stability

when took the field for the Razorbacks, connecting on 16 of 19

field goals as a freshman during the 2010 season. He followed that

up with a 21-of-27 effort as a sophomore, setting the school

single-season record for points by a kicker with 118.

However, last season Hocker struggled with consistency – much

like the rest of an Arkansas team that finished 4-8 in the wake of

Bobby Petrino’s firing. He finished 11 of 18 on field goals.

”It was just an uncharacteristic year for me,” Hocker said.

”I just wasn’t in the rhythm. I think that’s how it was for almost

the whole entire team last season with all the stuff going on. I

just never felt that comfortable stage like I had my freshman and

sophomore year.”

Hocker spent part of the offseason talking with other kickers,

including punter Tim Masthay from the Green Bay Packers, New

Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead and Indianapolis Colts punter

Pat McAfee, about the mental part of the position. He said he’s

learned how to focus better week to week, leaving mistakes in the

past and not letting them interfere with the present.

That work was on display during Arkansas’ only open scrimmage of

the preseason, during which he blasted a 68-yard punt – a clear

sign he’s had no trouble returning to the position he was

originally recruited for by the Razorbacks. Hocker also connected

on a 57-yard field goal during the scrimmage.

Bielema said he was standing next to an NFL scout during one

practice when Hocker blasted a pair of kickoffs, one to the back of

the end zone and the other into the bleachers behind it. He said

the scout was amazed Hocker was handling all three positions so

well.

”It goes to show you what confidence does for a kicker,”

Bielema said. ”He is liking life right now. I think he’s enjoying

what we’re doing. He knows we’re going to take care of him.

”We’re going to take care of his body, we’re resting him the

right way, and he is stroking the ball as good as anybody I’ve been

around.”