Arkansas Football: 5 Newcomers Who Will Have the Biggest Impacts in 2014
It's no secret that head coach Bret Bielema and the Arkansas Razorbacks are in the midst of a serious rebuilding project.
It's scary to think that the Hogs have to start the 2014 season on the road against the national runner-ups in the Auburn Tigers, but that's the reality of the situation. That means spring and fall practices are going to be that much more important in order to improve in all facets and prepare for a real test to open the season.
Because Arkansas is thin at a lot of positions, it also means that the Razorbacks need newcomers to step up and play impact roles.
Which new faces are going to have the biggest impacts in 2014? Here we break down the five first-year Hogs that will play the biggest roles in Bielema's second year.
Wide Receiver Jared Cornelius
Inexperienced doesn't even begin to describe the Hogs at the wideout position. With junior Keon Hatcher and sophomore tight end Hunter Henry being the only returning receiving options with over 10 catches and 100 yards last season, Arkansas must have younger guys contribute.
While he was just a mid-grade, 3-star recruit, Jared Cornelius is already showing that he can make a big impact out wide his freshman year.
Cornelius is having a very solid spring thus far. In the Hogs' first big scrimmage of spring practices last Saturday, Cornelius was third on the team in receiving with four receptions for 60 yards. He has displayed great hands and smooth route running.
Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com (subscription required) said Cornelius reminds him of former Hog and USC Trojan Damian Williams. That seems to be a good assessment considering they both have similar size, speed and overall games.
Cornelius told Biddy that he is getting more comfortable with all the adjustments:
I know the offense pretty well. I'm getting comfortable, I'm getting more relaxed. I feel like the first week was just getting to know the offense. Second week was just getting my feet back. And the third week and into the scrimmage was just me being me and letting it all out.
The pure lack of inexperience at receiver is going to open up doors early in Cornelius' career. He has the advantage of enrolling early and participating in spring drills, where he is already showing a firm grasp of the complexity of the wideout position.
Not only should Cornelius make an impact in his first year, but he also has a real chance of moving into a starting role. That will require him to continue to improve and contribute in earlier games, but don't be shocked if it happens.
Kicker Cole Hedlund
Four-year starter Zach Hocker is gone. He was one of the most valuable kickers the Razorbacks have had in a while, and his departure was a big loss.
Luckily for Arkansas, it signed the No. 2 kicker nationally in the 2014 class in Cole Hedlund.
Hedlund was the model of consistency during his high school career, hitting 56 of his 66 attempts (84.8 percent). Just as important as his accuracy is his leg strength, which he showed plenty of, connecting on as long as a 57-yard field goal.
In 2013 as a senior, he missed just two attempts (24-26) and made all 101 of his extra points.
Hedlund's big year earned him numerous postseason accolades, including being named an All-American, first-team MaxPreps All-American, first-team All-American by USA Today and an Associated Press Class 3A first-team all-state selection.
Like Hocker, Hedlund has the skills and leg to be a four-year starter for the Hogs. His only competition for the job is sophomore John Henson, who doesn't have the leg strength or the accuracy Hedlund does. However, he does have a year of practice and preparation at the college level and gets to work on his game even more in spring practice while Hedlund won't be on campus until the fall.
Still, with his skills and pure talent, he has the ability to earn the starting spot as a freshman and show off that leg to the Razorback nation. If that happens, expect Hedlund to have a huge impact in his first year.
While he might have some growing pains, there's no doubt he has what it takes.
Wide Receiver Cody Hollister
Another wideout that is making great early first impressions is Cody Hollister. A lightly recruited 3-star prospect from Arizona Western College, Hollister could be a diamond in the rough.
As a redshirt freshman at Arizona Western, Hollister hauled in 68 balls for 922 yards and five touchdowns. Even after a solid year, he held offers from just Troy, Wyoming and the Hogs.
Though he hasn't said anything about it, getting just three offers to play Division I football can act as a motivator to make teams that passed on him sorry.
Like Cornelius, he gets the benefit of extra practice time after enrolling early. Also like Cornelius, he is turning some heads.
Hollister had three catches for 38 yards in the team's scrimmage. While that's not a lot and was fifth out of the receivers, he's been making a name for himself in spring practice.
It's obvious how important hands are for receivers, and Hollister definitely has a good set. He's caught just about everything that's been thrown his way in practice and has shown a better-than-expected catch radius.
What could make him a deep threat down the road is his physical stature. At 6'4", his size makes it a challenge for defensive backs to cover him. He doesn't have blazing speed, but what he lacks in quickness, he makes up for with precise route running, soft hands and very good ball skills.
With more work and fine-tuning to his game, Hollister could become a valuable asset for Bielema and the Hogs. You can expect him to make an impact this season.
Defensive Tackle Bijhon Jackson
If you had to bet on one recruit from the '14 class to have the biggest impact next season, then your money would be best placed on 4-star defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson.
With great all-around game, Jackson not only has the talent to make a huge impact as a freshman, but also to earn a starting spot on the interior of the D-line.
Arkansas' defense was gashed in all facets last season, including on the ground. The Hogs were 78th nationally in rush defense, giving up 178.4 yards per game.
While a lot of that was due to a very inexperienced linebacking corps, it was also a product of the D-line not plugging holes and getting pushed off the ball.
Jackson should be a big boost for the rush defense. His 6'1", 334-pound frame is great for plugging holes to not allow backs inside running lanes. He's also a strong guy and is able to shed off linemen blocking him to get the ball carrier before he gets going.
His motor is enough to power a Carnival cruise ship. Mix that with jaw-dropping explosiveness and a first step that would make "Mean Joe" Greene proud, and you have a guy that is going to be a big contributor from day one.
We could go on and on about why Jackson will be an impact newcomer. Instead, I'll leave you with this: Jackson is really, really good.
Cornerback Henre' Toliver
Instead of going with an obvious choice and another receiver in JoJo Robinson, the fifth and final biggest impact newcomer is a guy you might not know a whole lot about.
Cornerback Henre' Toliver, a 3-star composite and 4-star 24/7 recruit, has an impressive game and plays a position the Hogs need help at.
As bad as the Razorbacks were on defense against the run, they were just as bad against the pass. Arkansas gave up 235.0 YPG through the air, which ranked 72nd in the country. The defensive backs were beaten all year long and were not nearly physical enough.
Toliver plays a physical style. In man coverage, he plays right up on wideouts and looks to jam them to throw them off their routes. That's something the secondary could definitely use.
Arkansas plays a lot of man coverage, which requires being physical and playing up on your man. There were countless times last season where the defensive backs were giving up to 10 yards of cushion. When they did decide to play up, they were often beat down the field.
Because of the way Toliver plays, he is going to get beat sometimes. But, he has good recovery speed and doesn't panic when a receiver gets a step on him. His instincts and reactive quickness are already better than a number of experienced cornerbacks.
Toliver's best attribute by far is his length, which you can't teach. It allows him to break up passes, make more plays on the ball and cover the bigger receivers.
It might not be early on, but Toliver has all the skills to be a key player in the rotation. Out of all the newcomers in the secondary, he is the most ready and most likely to make a big impact in his first season.
Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.
All player rankings and info courtesy of 247Sports.com.