Deeper Than Monk

FAYETTEVILLE -- Cooling off in the shadows of the Walker Family Training Facility after a recent practice, Arkansas receivers coach James Shibest kicked back on a pile of tackling dummies with his wife, Dianna, and their three-year-old son, James John or J.J., as he's called by the players.

Cedric Washington and Cedric Logan fielded tight spirals, shot out of a passing machine that was set up some 20 yards from Razorback Road. Shibest shouted occasional instruction, but mostly let the receivers do their thing. They don't need to be told what to do. They already know.

That's why the sixth-year Hogs' assistant looks as comfortable as he did when he was catching passes himself for the Razorbacks in the mid-1980s.

Why shouldn't he be relaxed? Marcus Monk is back quicker and stronger. He was named to the Freshman All-Southeastern Conference team a year ago and a second-team All-SEC preseason pick by league coaches. However, there's no guarantee Monk will be Arkansas' top receiver this fall.

"I can't guarantee that," said Shibest, leaning his head back to let out a laugh. "I hope they all catch a lot of passes. If they start doubling up Monk, that's going to open up the others quite a bit."

Opponents are sure to start double-teaming the 6-foot-6, 227-pound Monk. He set a school-record with 37 receptions as a freshman despite often drawing double coverage during the second half of the season.

That could leave receivers like Logan and Washington in single coverage. Both have the speed to burn defensive backs on deep routes or create space with quick breaks on shorter routes. Along with Monk, both have displayed leadership and loads of confidence through preseason practices.

"I want them confident," Shibest said. "And they should be. They've had a really good fall camp. You can see them getting a little more comfortable everyday at reading coverages and leveraging defenders. If you've got that and you take that to game day, then those guys should have some good success."

Washington returns the most experience. The 6-foot, 200-pound junior played in 24 games (with six starts) over the last two years. He caught 17 passes for 284 yards and a touchdown last season.

"We have to step up because if we don't, our team won't be successful," Washington said. "It's pretty obvious that teams are going to be double-teaming Monk and we have to make plays in order to open up him more and also help open some things in the running game."

Defenders tab Washington as the fastest among the Hogs' speedy receivers.

"Cedric Washington comes out of his breaks so quick that it's tough, almost impossible really, to stay with him," said cornerback John Johnson.

Most say the surprise of the group will be Logan, a 6-0, 196-pounder from Fayetteville. He played briefly in the season opener a year ago before an ankle injury nagged him for the rest of the season. He can apply for a medical hardship to gain another year after his senior year.

"We always talk about one or more of us stepping up," Logan said. "Monk's almost always going to be on the opposite side of the ball and if we can make some catches, then we'll start taking some of the attention away from him. That will help us all.

"With the number of playmakers we have at receiver, we can do something special this year."

Logan showed his playmaking ability with a one-handed grab during Saturday's scrimmage. He said he wasn't trying to show off, his other hand just got tied up with the defender.

"He's been doing that in practices all the time," Shibest said. "He's gaining confidence and you can see that first year getting out of him. He's really coming on as a leader with our group along with Monk and he can play, so were happy to see that."

With a brutal schedule ahead, Shibest knows he'll need more than Monk, Logan and Washington catching passes.

"We're looking for balance, ideally," Shibest said. "You usually get three guys with 20 or more catches and I can't really say that it'll happen because we've got some guys really coming on."

Guys like Chris Baker, Dedrick Poole and David Thompson. Freshmen Reggie Fish and Rod Coleman also could factor in.

Baker, a junior who strained his left knee on Thursday, but should be healthy for the season opener, has 13 receptions for 213 yards and two touchdowns in his career. His speed primarily has been utilized on deeper routes, but Shibest said that had more to do with the schemes than any limitation in Baker's abilities.

Poole, a senior, recently switched from tailback to H-back and figures to be in the mix because of his athleticism. Shibest also said there will be a role for Thompson, a junior who has been plague by injuries in recent years, but has had a solid preseason.

"There's a lot of depth and it's just different guys everyday stepping up," Poole said. "David Thompson for example, people don't talk about him as much, but every day when we watch film, he's making two or three big catches in practice."

Fish, a 5-7, 154-pounder, is Arkansas' version of the human joystick with his ability to seemingly run circles around a defender. He gained quality repetitions in the spring and won't be redshirted. Coaches also like what they see out of Coleman, but haven't decided whether to redshirt the rangy 6-2, 175-pounder.

"With the way some of these guys are playing and how hard they worked this summer, I know I can count on them," said Hogs quarterback Robert Johnson. "We'll get some matchups on every pass play that are to our advantage and not just with Monk. We have so many weapons, they can just make a move and take it to the house.

"We have some high expectations for our receivers."

Shibest tossed a miniature football to J.J. (Dianna's expecting their second child next month) as he spoke about his expectations for the season.

"We going to have a lot of guys making catches," Shibest said. "If we get into a lot of three-wide sets, which we may do more this year, we're going to have to rotate more guys which will mean more opportunities for everybody."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories