FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas wide receiver T.J. Hammonds rushed downfield, threw on the brakes instantly and hopped backwards to catch a 20-yard back-shoulder pass.
Hammonds easily beat senior defensive back Kevin Richardson II during the 1-on-1 matchup in practice earlier this spring. It was a sign of the potential Hammonds possesses as a slot receiver.
While the talent is there for the recently-converted running back, so are the growing pains.
The sophomore from Little Rock struggled mightily just days later in Arkansas’ first scrimmage of the spring. He looked out of place as he dropped 2 passes and made no positive impact in the 130-play practice.
A week later, Hammonds bounced back nicely. He caught all 3 passes thrown his way for 27 yards in the Razorbacks’ second scrimmage of the spring. He displayed crisp route running, elusiveness with the ball in his hands and — most importantly — confidence.
The resolve he showed over the last 2 weeks will be essential in determining whether the position change is ultimately a success.
“One thing T.J. Hammonds has got, he’s got a lot of pride … and he’s got a lot of talent,” Bielema told reporters following the scrimmage Saturday.
“It’s a transition to that wide receiver spot. I think it’s been natural for him. He’s just got to continue to catch balls in traffic. I don’t think he put one on the ground today.”
Hammonds almost certainly will be a reserve during the 2017 season. Ideally, senior Jared Cornelius will start in the slot while potentially moving outside in certain situations. Redshirt sophomore Deon Stewart has put himself in prime position to also receive snaps in the slot.
So where does that leave Hammonds?
Well, he’s too talented not to get at least a few touches per game. His make-you-miss ability is unmatched on the roster.
“What we like with him is when he gets the ball in the open field he’s tough to bring down,” Bielema said of the 5-foot-10, 197-pound player. “He’s got a low center of gravity. He is very strong breaking tackles and he also has really quick feet to make them miss. He’s really the trifecta as a ballcarrier and someone we can incorporate.”
Hammonds will see the field at receiver during the 2017 season. How much likely depends on his acclimation to the position going forward. If he can continue exhibiting the resilience he’s shown this spring, expect to see him making an impact sooner rather than later.