FAYETTEVILLE – With Arkansas All-American receiver Treylon Burks turned pro as a junior last December the Razorbacks in 2022 have especially looked to senior Warren Thompson, sophomore Ketron Jackson and via University of Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood emerging as big-play receivers for starting quarterback KJ Jefferson.
Thompson, in his second Razorbacks season since transferring from Florida State, 19 catches for 304 yards and two touchdowns last year from Jefferson, and Jackson of Royse City, Texas, 5 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown, met with media after Thursday’s practice in shorts at the Walker Pavilion as did senior defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols of Springdale and redshirt freshman linebacker Chris “Pooh” Paul of Cordele, Ga.
Thursday’s workout marks the last tuneup before Saturday’s 11 a.m. open to the public scrimmage at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
What’s been thrust upon them, Thompson and Jackson were asked, with Burks gone?
“We’re trying to build every day just trying to build a foundation with consistency and just play-making,” Thompson replied. “We’ve got the ability in the room. It’s not left. We’re going to bring that. We’re building every day.”
Jackson replied, “Yeah, with Burks leaving, obviously that’s a huge load to pick up. But I mean, Coach (Sam Pittman) came in and told us after that, ‘He’s gone. Who’s going to step up.’ Like we’ve got the talent to do it. It’s just a matter of like who’s going to step up. Every day at practice they’re saying ‘Consistency, consistency, consistency.’ That’s what me, Warren and the others are bringing every day so we can show that we didn’t lose nothing. We’re just stepping ahead.”
Consistency seems the elusive key for Thompson. He has recorded some Burks like spectacular catches last fall and this spring but also dropped some like earlier this week wide open for what would have been a Jefferson TD pass.
“Focus,” Thompson said. “That’s important and that’s what we try to focus on every day. I know I do. It’s important to get your head around and look for the ball and locate the ball and hand-eye coordination. I know I can do better, and I’m going to make that my mission to be better and win a lot of games.
Thompson knows he’s got a coach in his corner. Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendall Briles was the Florida State offensive coordinator when Thompson was a Seminole and then with FSU changing coaches transferred to Arkansas initially as a walk-on since placed by Pittman on scholarship.
“It was a blessing for reaI,” Thompson said. “I was kind of getting over my injury, so I just kind of wanted to get out there and show him what I could do. But it was definitely a weight lifted.”
Jackson said he felt like a rookie last year. Not anymore.
“This spring I wanted to accomplish just being more comfortable,” Jackson said. “Bringing myself out. Last year I didn’t feel as comfortable playing on the field. I was getting used to my body. I was coming off an injury I just wanted to get more comfortable and get used to it because I know what role I have to step up and fill. It’s just me bringing it every day, practice getting better day by day.”
Both were asked about Malik Hornsby, the backup quarterback so fast that he’s also practicing some at receiver. Hornsby beat first-team cornerback Hudson Clark for a 55-yard touchdown catch from Jefferson Thursday.
“Malik brings a lot of explosive plays to the outside, man,” Thompson said. “He’s just fast, like next-level fast.”
Both also touted Haselwood who shed Thursday his green no-contact jersey off a recent shoulder injury and practiced Thursday.
Linebacker Paul and tight end Trey Knox have cleared concussion protocol and practiced Thursday.
Paul, who played the maximum four games allowed and still redshirt in 2021, advances to the top linebacker behind first-teamers Bumper Pool, returning as a bonus senior, and Drew Sanders, the transfer from the University of Alabama.
Paul said he learned much last year from Pool and departed 2021 bonus senior linebackers Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry.
“Guys like Isaiah Nichols, Grant Morgan at the time, Hayden Henry and Bumper Pool of course,” Paul said. “They got me on the right track and they just kept me there and ever since then I’ve been on a roll. Playing behind those guys was a true blessing for me.”
Nichols was asked about defensive coordinator Barry Odom and new defensive line coach Deke Adams incorporating more 4-man fronts with the 3-man fronts that Odom mostly relied upon the last two seasons under Pittman.
“Coach Adams is doing a really good job of you know getting everybody prepared to go play,” Nichols said.”The way he teaches the 3-down and the way he teaches the 4-down I think we’ll have a lot of success with both of them.”
Though from Georgia, Paul implies he feels as Arkansas at home as Nichols from right up the road in Springdale.
It helps that Pittman had first started recruiting him while an assistant at Georgia.
“Arkansas has felt like home since I committed here,” Paul said. “So it wasn’t a hard transition for me. I fell in love with the coaches as soon as they got here. I fell in love with Coach Pittman when he was at Georgia. He made me feel at home there. He made me feel at home here.”
Marco Avant, the redshirt freshman linebacker and Forrest City native, picked off a pass from quarterback Cade Fortin Thursday after it glanced off the receiver’s hands.
All four players interviewed welcome fans attending Saturday’s scrimmage but said otherwise it’s just another work day.
“Every day is a game rep,” Jackson said. “We love the fans coming out but it’s about us getting better every day.”