In a time when Arkansas is searching to find a reliable go-to receiver for Brandon Allen, Keon Hatcher failed to step up in the first half of the Red-White game.
Hatcher, the junior-to-be from Owasso, Okla., knows it was not his best day after a drop and a ball that came out of his hands to a defender for an interception on the game's second play. The former four-star recruit was still upset about his play when he met with reporters this week.
"We just came out kinda slow, kind of dry," Hatcher said. "It wasn't supposed to be like that. And I take part of the responsibility because I'm supposed to be a leader on this team.
"But the offense, we came out a little dry and I feel like we picked it up in the second half and got some things going, and we ended up having a pretty good day."
Hatcher was tough on himself on the drop.
"Oh yeah, that drop, that's a routine route, a routine pass," Hatcher said. "Tried to make a move before I actually looked the ball all the way in. It happens. It happens to the best of us. Great receivers drop balls too. Just got to make sure it doesn't happen as often."
Afterwards, head coach Bret Bielema addressed the sloppy play by Hatcher and receivers in general, noting that newcomers Cody Hollister and Jared Cornelius made the most of their chances, with no drops.
Yeah, yeah, yeah," Hatcher said. "It's always going to be like that. Great competition brings out the best in all of us.
"We have some great receivers, some pretty good receivers and they're out there working too. They want to be out there on the field just as bad as I want to, so we're all going to be out there competing, getting each other better and getting ready for the season.
Hatcher was disappointed because that's not the way he had played in the first 14 spring practices. And it's not the way the offense had performed as a unit.
"Like I had said, we had come out a little dry and slow," he said. "The responsibility part falls on me. I'm supposed to be one of the leaders of this team.
"I can't let that happen. But like I said, we picked it up in the second half, got some things going and ended up with a pretty good day."
Hatcher had praise for the young receivers, the junior college transfer Hollister and the high school grad Cornelius.
"Jared, he's a little smooth dude," Hatcher said. "Secondary coach (Clay) Jennings, every time before practice, he comes up to us and he calls him 'Sweet Feet.' He's a real nice dude, he can move a little bit, you know.
"He has a great set of hands on him. He's just an overall playmaker. So Jared's going to help us a lot this year.
Would Hatcher compare him some to Joe Adams?
"I could see it a little Joe," Hatcher said. "Little Jared, he can make some plays, so I'm pretty sure he's got something in store for y'all this season."
On Hollister, Hatcher said, "Cody, you know he's a big-bodied guy. He can catch the ball exceptionally well. He's a great blocker. I mean, what else you need from a receiver. He runs great routes. He's a hard worker. He's pushing everybody out there. He wants a starting spot as well, so I mean, come this fall, we'll all be competing and ready to go to work."
It could be that the go-to receiver isn't a wide receiver at all. It could be tight end Hunter Henry. The big sophomore said it wasn't what he expected in the spring game, either, but knows there was a big desire to keep some new wrinkles off film.
"You know, I think we all kind of knew we weren't going to put as much out there as we would usually do on a game day," Henry said. "We just didn't want to put as much on film. We had a lot of new stuff we did this spring that we really didn't want to put out there.
"You know, it was vanilla at times. I think we came out a little lackadaisical, kind of walking through it almost and not taking it as serious in the first half. Then in the second half we tried to translate it and we were doing it. Once we get in a rhythm we're a great offense."
There were hidden wrinkles in the running game, too. Henry knows that will still be a potent part of the offense.
"Our running game is going to be great," Henry said. "We have three great running backs, a great offensive line. We've got to continue to improve in our passing game, but I think we're as close as anything.
"We have to get a little bit better in our passing game, continue to improve on that. And I think we've taken great strides in that. We've got to continue to take strides in the summer in the passing game and continue to improve our running game."
Specifically, where does the improvement need to come from?
I think it's when everyone's on the same page," Henry said. "I think sometimes we have guys running one route this way and then we're not making maybe one play.
"We're not catching it. We're not making the right throw or read. We just have to all get on the same page. When we're all on the game page, we're hard to beat."
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