FAYETTEVILLE – When Arkansas had its first day in full pads Saturday, head coach Bret Bielema said he was happy with how the practice went, but he did criticize one position group.
He characterized the wide receivers as “draggy” and said he expects more from senior Jared Cornelius in a leadership role.
Perhaps that was the little nudge Cornelius and the receivers needed, as they had a much better day at practice Tuesday.
“Whenever you're called out in the media, we kind of want to bounce back and show coach that we might have had a bad start, but we want to bounce back and be better than before,” Cornelius said. “I felt like we did that today.”
As the lone experienced guy at the position, Cornelius said he has been trying to fill the leadership void left by the graduation of Keon Hatcher and Drew Morgan.
He joked that he can “finally” have some passes thrown his way, but admitted that it’s been a difficult transition. Cornelius had always deferred to Hatcher and Morgan and now that responsibility falls to him.
His goal is to learn the offense like a quarterback so he can teach his teammates all of the necessary details.
“This year I'm trying to be a little bit more vocal,” Cornelius said. “In practice, I'll go from one receiver to the next…just telling them stuff I'm seeing that they don't even know they're doing wrong that's going to bite them eventually later on down the road.”
Having Cornelius to lean on was almost a luxury the Razorbacks didn’t have this season.
After being named the top slot receiver in the SEC by Pro Football Focus, the Louisiana native considered forgoing his senior season and entering the NFL Draft.
He came “pretty close” to leaving, but luckily for Arkansas, he eventually decided against it.
“I definitely took some time to think about it,” Cornelius said. “Ultimately, the fans, the state, this football team, I couldn't leave these guys behind so I decided to come back.”
One of the things Cornelius said he is trying to do in his final year at Arkansas is slim down to between 205-210 pounds.
Although he started the winter session at 220 pounds, but is back down close to playing weight of 212 pounds last season.
“I've got to run a faster time, but the main thing is weight and being able to move around,” Cornelius said. “I’m probably going to be a slot guy, a flanker guy in the NFL, so I've got to slim down and quicken up a little bit.”
Making Cornelius’ decision to return even more important is the fact that the Razorbacks are loaded with inexperience. Deon Stewart has two receptions and LaMichael Pettway has one. Everyone else has none.
However, he has been impressed with the young receivers.
“They've got God-given talent,” Cornelius said. “It's just going to take a while for them to get ready and get some experience, but they've got all the talent in the world.”
Stewart, Pettway and Jordan Jones have been taking most of the first-team reps alongside Cornelius, but junior-college transfers Brandon Martin and Jonathan Nance have been making a strong push to crack that rotation, too.
“They didn't come here to sit on the bench, and you see that with those guys,” Cornelius said. “It's going to take them a while to learn the offense and what we call everything, but as far as finding holes, finding zones and getting open, they know how to do that already.”
Arkansas’ spring continues Thursday with practice No. 5. The Razorbacks will have 10 more practices after that, concluding with the annual Red-White spring game on April 29.