By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas lost Treylon Burks to the NFL and two other key wide receivers off the 2021 team, but don’t feel too sorry for Kenny Guiton since he has some very good talent on this year’s squad.
Guiton is set to begin his second season at Arkansas and the room has been bolstered by two outstanding transfers. He got Jadon Haselwood from Oklahoma and Matt Landers from Toledo. Landers only played at Toledo one year after previously playing two at Georgia.
Haselwood, 6-3, 213, topped the Sooners with 39 receptions for six touchdowns last fall. His catches went for 399 yards. At Toledo, Landers caught 20 passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns. Guiton is elated to have both at Arkansas. Haselwood, much like Feleipe Franks, has emerged as someone the others look up to in the room from a leadership role despite on being on the campus the spring and summer.
“No. 1 by far would be Jadon Haselwood,” Guiton said. “I mean, he’s stepped in, an older guy who’s played some ball at another place, another conference and things. He’s stepped in. A really, really smart guy who understands what’s going on around him. He steps up and he talks. He’s able to lead guys on. I do think Warren [Thompson] is a leader guy. He’s not a big talker. He’s going to lead by example. He will help the young guys as much as he can. He’s not a rah-rah guy. He’s not that. But he is a guy who’s going to go out there and lead by example, show how it’s done. I’m very proud with where he’s at right now.”
Haselwood feels being on campus in the spring and going through spring drills really allowed him to learn the system.
“I would say I was comfortable in the spring, it was just me still learning,” Haselwood said. “I feel like I got mostly everything down pat, so now it’s just me going out there, looking at the coverage and finding a way to get open instead of thinking about what I have on that play.”
But Haselwood said him being a vocal leader isn’t something he necessarily thought would happen.
“To be honest, I’m not,” Haselwood said not natural to him. “That’s just something for me stepping out of my comfort zone. I know what we need and I know sometimes I have to be the one to do it, even though I don’t want to. But that’s just a role I have to play as a teammate and that’s just me getting better and making the team better.”
As far as Landers, Guiton loves having him on the squad. The 6-foot-5, 197-pound Landers offers a lot of options for KJ Jefferson at quarterback.
“It’s just different when you’ve got a guy that long, that tall, that fast and can track the ball,” Guiton said. “He’s added to our room something different. I actually think it’s picked up other guys, as well, to say ‘look at that.’ He’s jumped into it, he’s eager to learn every day and he’s getting better and better every day to learn and know how we do things.”
Guiton feels the three years of college football already played by Landers has helped him adjust to Arkansas even though he wasn’t in Fayetteville for the spring practices.
“Exactly, right,” Guiton said. “He played in MAC for a little bit, and coming back to the SEC he knows what to expect. He’s not that bright-eyed kid like everything is surprising him. He knows what to expect, he knows what he needs to learn and I have to be ready for my moment, for my opportunities.”
Haselwood is elated to have Landers on the team and in the room with him. With no Treylon Burks, Tyson Morris and De’Vion Warren, the Hogs need him.
“With him, it’s way bigger than just depth,” Haselwood said. “He’s a playmaker. I feel like everybody in the room, though, is a playmaker to be honest. Even the young guys. I know we feed off each other’s energy in that room, even as an offense. So when it comes to Saturdays, maybe the defense can feed off our energy.”
Another player who could definitely boost the wide receivers is Malik Hornsby, who is at quarterback now. But Sam Pittman has stated Hornsby will also play wide receiver this fall since he’s far too good only standing on the sideline while Jefferson runs the offense. How much does Guiton expect to have him.
“That’s a really good question,” Hornsby said. “I mean, he’s different out there. He’s a guy that we want to throw him out there, be smart about it all and let him get a chance to go affect the game, because he has that ability in whatever he’s doing out there, whether it’s quarterback, wideout, split out, whatever it is. He’s got a chance to affect the game in a positive way, and so we want to give him that chance.”
Guiton talked about the wide receivers room as a whole this presseason.
“It’s been pretty good,” Guiton said. “I like the new guys coming up, the freshmen coming in. It’s been a group whose learning curve has jumped tremendously from spring until now. You’ve got some engaged guys. You’ve got guys who want to go compete. It’s a competitive room. Everyone in there knows you can’t half-step it. You’ve got to come and play ball every day. Any type of competition brings the best out of your guys and you always love to see it.”
Guiton knows that eventually he will have to start narrowing the room down and talked about when that might happen.
“You want to see these guys compete at least in live ball,” Guiton said. “We haven’t even had a scrimmage yet so it’s a little tough. So you try to move guys around and get guys reps. Guys that don’t get a chance with the 1s and you see them doing good things with the later half of the group, so you get those guys up and see what they’ve got, see what you’ve got. The competitive nature is so awesome that everyone’s competing their butts off.
“After a while, the best ones play. It’s all about that execution. It’s a production-based game, you win or you lose. Whether you got the job or you didn’t and he’s getting that job done more often, the better three is on the field. It’s no reason for you to hang your head because you’re not one of those three, just be ready to roll when your number is called. Usually you get that opportunity. If you handle your business, you get that opportunity. When that opportunity comes, you’ve got to take advantage. You can’t be that guy sulking and not ready for it.”
Arkansas won’t practice on Wednesday and then will don full pads for the first time on Thursday. Practice Friday and then hold the first scrimmage on Saturday.