Wideouts or linebackers? The two units most important to Arkansas’ success
With your bacon, have some Hogs for Breakfast. It’s SEC Country’s weekday column and roundup on all things Arkansas. Opinion, numbers, inane babble and more! And now with ironic exclamation points. There is no place like it on the Web.
Michael Taylor and Deon Stewart were two of the players Arkansas made available on Tuesday after practice. It was the first time Taylor, an outside linebacker, or Stewart, a wide receiver, were made available to the media in their careers, other than during media day last season.
Razorbacks handlers weren’t hiding Taylor or Stewart. Just no one was asking much about them in the past. That’s all changed now.
Taylor was part of the team last season but didn’t arrive in time to qualify and sat out the season. Stewart was on the team, but as a redshirt freshman, he only made a mark in the kick-returning game — though he did catch 2 passes for 34 yards as well. They were cogs in Arkansas’ machine, perhaps, but not exactly important parts.
Stewart now finds himself as the Hogs’ top slot receiver and on a team that uses three wide somewhat often. With Jared Cornelius on the outside and La’Michael Pettway opposite, wide receivers coach Michael Smith is rolling his three most experienced wideouts on the first-team right now.
“Experienced.” Stewart and Pettway have a career 3 catches between them.
Spring, though, is for development, and Smith said he likes what he’s seen so far.
Taylor is starting at one of the outside linebacker spots in Arkansas’ new 3-4 defense. Not that they’re starting by default, but they’re both new to units that severely lack experience.
At 260 pounds, Taylor is rather large for a linebacker. But that’s because he’s new to the spot himself. Taylor played defensive line on the scout team last season. Occasionally, he’d see a stand-up pass-rusher role, similar to the one Randy Ramsey served as at times last season, but mostly, he was a hand-on-the-ground end.
“The dropping is new to me,” Taylor said. “I was D-line, so I didn’t really drop as much in the 4-front.”
He said he’s comfortable, though, getting out and covering running backs on wheel routes and the like. It’s just a matter of time until he has it under control.
But without Brooks Ellis and with Dre Greenlaw still sidelined, Arkansas can use all the Taylor development it can get.
The next Arkansas spring practice will come Saturday inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. And it’ll be more of a scrimmage than a traditional practice.
The timing is pretty common. Coach Bret Bielema has tended to go as many as three scrimmages during the spring in years past. If his previous form holds, anticipate the first-team players receiving about 70 percent or so of the snaps.
Noland continues to impress
Greenwood quarterback Connor Noland was the first commit to Bielema’s team in the Class of 2018. The Greenwood pitcher was one of baseball coach Dave Van Horn’s first, too.
The two-sport star from about an hour down Interstate 49 from Fayetteville is about to finish his junior year of high school. Right now, it’s baseball season and Noland, a potential MLB draft pick out of high school, is shooting for a state championship.
Noland had a heck of a day Thursday against a bigger school, knocking 3 RBI in the Bulldogs’ 8-4 win against Springdale. And while he isn’t known for his bat, the game was another sign that Bielema isn’t the only one who is expected to get a good one.
It just means more … to Watkins
Former Arkansas basketball player Manny Watkins saw his Razorbacks career come to an end when his team fell to North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last month. Watkins, however, continues to earn plaudits for his work.
The former walk-on, who earned a scholarship following his sophomore season, was given the Matthew Waller Leadership Award on Wednesday for his work in the classroom. The award is given to a senior who majors in Supply Chain Management who best exhibits the traits of a leader. Watkins served as basketball team captain, not coincidentally, the last two years of his basketball career.
Personally speaking, good for him. Watkins was an absolute joy every time he met with the media. He’s personable, likable, goofy and serious. He will be missed by us, but, more importantly, by coach Mike Anderson.
Skip Breakfast? C’mon. It’s too important. Catch up with previous versions here.