FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Optimism abounded among coaches and players as Arkansas began spring practice this week.
That’s typical this time of year, at least publicly, just as it likely will be when fall camp begins in August. Still, it’s not difficult to justify the positive outlook for this Razorbacks team.
A returning starter at quarterback in senior-to-be Austin Allen, four starters back on the offensive line and an overhaul of the defensive with a new and experienced coordinator are a few of the obvious reasons.
There is also a not-so-obvious source of the Hogs’ upbeat feelings — wide receiver.
Conventional wisdom, at least for those who do not closely follow recruiting, suggests Arkansas will take a step back at the position in 2017. The Hogs are replacing experienced playmakers Keon Hatcher and Drew Morgan. Furthermore, their depth took a hit with reserves Cody Hollister and Dominique Reed also having exhausted their eligibility.
However, Arkansas apparently has no expectation of a drop-off in production thanks in large part to junior college transfers Brandon Martin and Jonathan Nance. Those two, both from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, joined the program in January among six 2017 signees projected to play receiver.
“They’re big time,” Allen told reporters Tuesday after the Hogs’ first practice of the spring.
“(Martin), you throw it up there, he’s going to come down with it. And then (Nance), he’s like a smaller Jared (Cornelius) right now with just how smooth he is. He understands the defenses and how he can sit in the hole and how fluid he catches the ball. Just seeing them out there running and catching today, it was pretty impressive. I’m just happy to have them.”
Martin arrived as a sophomore 4-star recruit and top 10 overall junior college prospect according to the 247Sports composite rankings, making him the highest-rated recruit of the nine mid-term enrollees. A native of Monroe, La., Martin quickly impressed his new coaches and teammates with his work ethic over the winter. He has also already gained the trust of his quarterback.
“He’s physically imposing,” Allen said of the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Martin.
“That’s what you want your wideout to look like. He’s a big guy that can run, catch and runs great routes. He’s a guy that you throw it up there and he’s going to come down with it every time.”
Nance, a junior, was a cornerback at Southern Miss before transferring in 2015 to try his hand at receiver. The move paid off with him committing to Arkansas following his first of two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast. He expects to fit into the slot but is believed to have the versatility to play outside if needed.
“Martin, Nance … I mean, we’ve got some guys that can go,” running back Rawleigh Williams III said. “Both those guys made some really good catches (Tuesday). I think at that receiver position, we have a lot of weapons.”
Arkansas football practices continue to the Red-White Spring Game on Saturday, April 29.