FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Forty-two words.
That’s all it took to raise Michael Smith’s ire. The Arkansas wide receivers coach let his players have it the next time they gathered in his meeting room.
The six sentences that sent Smith through the roof came during head coach Bret Bielema’s news conference after practice last Saturday.
“I think our wideouts have to pick it up a little bit. I thought they were a little bit draggy in the beginning. Looking for a little leadership out of that group. J-Red’s got to lead the charge. We’ll get that going.”
J-Red is Jared Cornelius — Arkansas’s only senior wide receiver.
“One thing I don’t like is when coach calls us out in the media for something negative,” Smith said after practice Thursday. “That’s a direct reflection of me.”
Wide receivers easily could make or break the 2017 Arkansas offense. It is the least-experienced offensive position group entering next season, a fact that makes Cornelius all the more important.
No one is more aware of that than Cornelius himself.
“Being that only senior, the only guy that has had some experience, is hard,” Cornelius said. “I’m not used to it. … So just trying to be a guy that they can look up to.”
Cornelius was the third-leading receiver for Arkansas last season, catching 32 passes for 515 yards and 4 touchdowns. He made his biggest impact during a 4-game stretch in the middle of the season, but was relatively quiet the rest of the regular season before missing the Belk Bowl with a knee injury.
Cornelius considered skipping his senior season and entering the 2017 NFL Draft but announced before the Belk Bowl that he would return for one more season in Fayetteville.
And everyone associated with Arkansas football is surely glad he made that decision.
Arkansas lost 4 senior receivers from last year’s team, including reliable wideouts Keon Hatcher and Drew Morgan — and that doesn’t even include standout tight end Jeremy Sprinkle.
“I think it’s been an adjustment for all of us,” Smith said. “It’s been an adjustment for me. “To go in that room now and not see those guys … I knew that day was coming, but we’re gonna get through it.
“I think Jared’s taken on a great role and understands it’s his turn to be that vocal guy.”
It certainly helps that Arkansas returns senior quarterback Austin Allen. But it can’t be just Cornelius catching the passes, and the Hogs are still trying to figure out who else they can rely on in 2017.
Guys like La’Michael Pettway, Deon Stewart, T.J. Hammonds, Jordan Jones, Brandon Martin and Jonathan Nance are all possibilities.
It’s still a long time before Arkansas opens the 2017 season, but Smith hopes to see some progression Saturday, when the Hogs will scrimmage for the first time this spring inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“I’m just looking for consistency,” Smith said. “That’s my biggest thing with my position. I want my guys to always play well. I don’t want any balls on the ground. I want the consistency of getting lined up and playing and making plays out there, because when we have our opportunities we’ve gotta take advantage of them.”