State of the Hogs: Legit Catchers

Arkansas isn't hurting at wide receiver. There are plenty of weapons at Tyler Wilson's command. The pass catchers were fantastic in the first scrimmage of fall camp. True freshman Mekale McKay raised eyebrows with his catches.

So you were worried about wide receivers at Arkansas this football season? Worry about getting moisture to the roots of your trees. Don't worry about the pass catchers.

That's what I was thinking when I left the scrimmage Tuesday night. I saw brown trees scattered every where among the hills around Fayetteville on the drive to the intramural fields. And when I walked onto the intramural fields, I saw weapons in every offensive group. Plenty.

Brandon Mitchell is going to be just fine in his attempt at slot receiver. And for some of the same reasons, 6-6 Mekale McKay looks like a can't miss phenom at split end. Both were sensational Tuesday night. They have basketball skills that translate perfectly to going up for the football.

McKay was the buzz after catching touchdown passes from Brandon Allen on the second and third possessions of the scrimmage, first of the fall. He raised eyebrows throughout the scrimmage even when he wasn't catching TD passes.

We should have seen it coming after the hint Paul Petrino provided after Monday's workout.

Petrino, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, praised McKay for the way he used his big, long body to fight through press coverage after the Hogs added full pads. McKay has a smooth gait and seems just as fluid with pads.

There's nothing wrong with Demetrius Wilson, Keon Hatcher, D'Arthur Cowan and Eric Hawkins. Those five newcomers are just as prepared to play at wideout this year as Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Chris Gragg were four seasons ago. And they may be better when they are finished.

Cobi Hamilton is still the man at wide receiver. He's having his best camp. He makes the catch and flies up field. His quickness is at an all-time high. He's poised for a breakout season. There's nothing wrong with Julian Horton, Javontee Herndon and Keante Minor, either.

Chris Gragg is a wonderful tight end, as good as any in the country. Petrino raves about the way Gragg and Mitchell are blocking on the outside.

With the return of Knile Davis, the perimeter running should be strong. That was the bread and butter from November 2010. Petrino has that stuff dialed up and ready.

No, the questions aren't any more about offense than they've been the last four seasons. This offense reminds me of the Starship Enterprise.

There are weapons everywhere and great leadership on the bridge. Imagine Tyler Wilson there, along with Petrino. They will be calling the shots, directing the great ship's immense capabilities.

It will come down to defense, although it's hardly fair to play against this offense in a scrimmage that doesn't allow the quarterback to be hit. That's about all you can do to stop it.

There were times in the scrimmage that the run defense (with a terrific defensive front) forced passing situations and the coverage was decent, but Wilson or backup Brandon Allen found a crack, seam or delivered a touch pass that dropped over the defender to a cutting receiver.

I felt a little sorry for defensive coordinator Paul Haynes, also the safeties coach, as he stepped to the microphone after practice. His safeties have a long way to go, but there may not be any secondary that is quite ready for what Wilson can do in an early August scrimmage.

What I see with Haynes is an intense focus on building the proper reliance on keys, plus the elimination of mental mistakes. It isn't perfect now. It can't be with Alonzo Highsmith, Tenarius Wright and Eric Bennett all out with injuries and youngsters filling those slots. But the youngsters have talent. Haynes and linebackers coach Taver Johnson are giving the new class plenty of practice time.

Their intent is to grind through fall camp with the likes of redshirt freshman Rohan Gaines and true freshman Defonta Lowe getting lots of safety repetitions. Gaines has already stepped into a first team role. Lowe is climbing the depth chart at that position, too.

Otha Peters and A. J. Turner, both true freshmen, got lots of scrimmage time with Wright and Highsmith out. They don't look lost. They find the ball like true linebackers. Turner weighs just 216, but there may not be time for him to fill out. He's going to play because of his instincts and tackling skills.

Asked if he's big enough, Haynes said, "I think so. He makes plays. He has all the tools. It's about heart. His heart is big and where maybe his size isn't."

Haynes emphasized that youth will be served this fall camp.

"We are going to keep getting the young guys reps," Haynes said. "We are going to get better and keep knocking them in there. We are going to grind it out. They are talented."

And the competition on the other side of the ball is at the highest level every day in practice.

"It's awesome to go against this offense," Haynes said. "We have the best quarterback, the best wide receiver and the best tight end in the country. Our guys go against them daily and we will get better."

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