Arkansas is switching back to the smashmouth style on offense, but will be doing so without its leading returning receiver.
Sophomore Mekale McKay, who caught 21 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns a year ago, has left the program. He will transfer to Cincinnati, according to Thomas Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Under normal circumstances, losing your leading receiver would be devastating—especially during a transition year.
Not for this Razorback team.
The 6'6", 190-pounder had been fighting through injuries during fall camp, and was beat out by senior Demetrius Wilson on the post-spring depth chart.
The loss of McKay hurts because he did bring stability to the offense and has upside, but first-year head coach Bret Bielema's offense is still in good hands with the talent that remains on the roster.
Wilson was the surprise of spring practice. The 6'3", 185-pound senior showed that he has big-play ability, can be a weapon over the middle and has the size to go up over opposing defensive backs. He only had nine catches for 117 yards and one touchdown last season, but don't be surprised if he slides right in and establishes himself as the next in a long line of top-tier wide receivers in Fayetteville.
While Wilson was the surprise of spring practice, senior Julian Horton has been impressing the coaching staff during fall camp. The 6'1", 210-pounder is extremely versatile, has the size to present matchup nightmares and the speed to go the distance.
“I was really excited about Julian,” Bielema told the Baxter (Ark.) Bulletin on Saturday. "Him and [quarterback] Brandon Allen, got together at almost exactly the same time in the spring where everything started clicking and going together."
Javontee Herndon is another senior to keep an eye on.
The 6'1", 194-pound Jacksonville, Fla. native caught 21 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns a year ago, and takes the place of McKay as Arkansas' leading returning receiver. He averaged 14.48 yards per reception last season, and can be the vertical threat that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney needs.
He made a highlight-reel 47-yard touchdown catch in Saturday's scrimmage, going up high over a defensive back to reel in a pass from Brandon Allen, according to the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports).
These three receivers are a big reason why quarterback Allen has been so impressive this spring.
Allen completed 16 of 17 passes in Saturday's scrimmage, with that one incompletion being a drop by Horton.
Bielema has taken notice of the receivers, and is excited about the way they've been clicking with Allen, according to the AP.
I think the players have so much faith in (Allen). And now you see those receivers, and I make a joke about it, but I mean it. Those receivers are maybe going to jump two inches higher to get that ball. They're going to strain that much more.
Sure, the offensive efficiency during fall camp could have as much to do—if not more—with the Arkansas defense as it does the offense.
However, these wide receivers have been around the block a time or two, and will be a big factor in Arkansas' success this season.
Bielema's offenses at Wisconsin were true ground-and-pound offenses in every sense of the term, but Chaney's style is a little more open. It's going to be difficult for Arkansas to line up and play smashmouth football against teams like Alabama and LSU, who do that every day with better personnel.
A mix of the old Bobby Petrino-style with the new staff is likely where the Arkansas offense will end up this season, and the Hogs have the talent at wide receiver to do that.
Expect this group to be one of the surprise units in the SEC in 2013.
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