Just because Sam Irwin-Hill won’t be back next season for Arkansas certainly doesn’t mean the Razorback fake punt party is over with.
Arkansas signed U.S. Army All-American punter Blake Johnson in Feb. and he will come in and compete with Toby Baker for the job next season.
Johnson (6-1, 215) was also an all-conference linebacker last season for Los Alamitos, Calif., High School and Razorback defensive line and special teams coach Rory Segrest likes what he sees.
“Obviously Toby is here but I think Blake is going to come in and do a great job competing for that,” Segrest said. “I saw some great things on film and he came to camp and did great job and played in that U.S Army All-American game. He only had one punt but it was for 51 yard and unfortunately he had to come down and make the tackle. Just a great athlete."
Johnson, who chose Arkansas over LSU, Texas and Duke, had 28 times for 1,039 yards (37.1 average) with 13 of those punts landing inside the 20-yard line and with a long of 63.
He also had 72 tackles with four sacks and was also the team’s back-up quarterback meaning that he should have the versatility that Irwin-Hill had according to Segrest.
“No question,” Segrest said. “I had an opportunity to watch him play and the first thing that caught my eye is I saw him on kickoff coverage. He is a good physical paler, played some safety and just a good athlete. A guy that can do some different things.”
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema talked about how he likes versatility in his punters.
“Neat kid,” Bielema said. “Really, really athletic. My success during my time as head coach with punters have been with guys that have been better athletes, including like Sam Irwin-Hill. Going back to my days at Iowa, recruited a couple guys that were tight ends and safeties. Blake was an all-conference player not only because of his punting skills but because his safety skills. Played a little bit of linebacker. Just a good athlete.”
Segrest will also have the opportunity to work with some new defensive linemen Hutchinson, Kan. Community College defensive end Jeremiah Ledbetter (6-4, 281) and Junction City defensive end Jamario Bell (6-6, 250).
The Razorbacks also landed Fort Smith Northside defensive end Daytrieon Dean (6-3, 260), Denmark’s Hjalte Froholdt (6-5, 280) and defensive end T.J. Smith (6-3, 265).
“We got five guys and went after the best players possible,” Segrest said. “They all play on the edge but some of them are big enough to play inside so we are going to get out there and see who can fill the needs we are looking for.”
Ledbetter is perhaps the most ready to play having been at junior college for three years.
“He is a versatile player,” Segrest said. I am going to get the best on the field whether it's on the edge or inside.”
That could include Bell, the basketball and football star who has led the Dragons to so much success.
“He has got the length, the speed, the quickness, the athleticism,” Bell said. “The first time I saw Jamario was watching him play basketball. I saw him leave at the free throw line and it seemed like he hung up forever on a dunk, just a very impressive athlete and I definitely look forward to working with him.”
Johnson Hoping To Fill Irwin-Hill's Shoes
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