Tejada, Special Teams Under Microscope

FAYETTEVILLE — Place kicker Alex Tejada said he has never experienced anything like the first half of Arkansas' 28-27 win against Louisiana-Monroe.

Two missed field goals. One botched extra point. A delay of game penalty on one kickoff attempt. And a shank on another, which gave ULM a first down at its own 45.

It was no surprise the widespread trouble was more than enough for Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino to bench the sophomore at halftime. Or that it has left questions as to whether Tejada will regain his job when Arkansas (2-0) plays at eighth-ranked Texas (2-0) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

"I'm just going to have to come out here and fight," Tejada said Tuesday. "Every day you have to come out and work because every day your job is on the line.

"But I do have a little something more to prove this week."

He's not alone. In fact, Tejada might as well be speaking for every member of Arkansas' special teams. Jobs are on the line all across the board after a not-so-special night.

In addition to Tejada, a punt was blocked, the Hogs nearly gave up a kickoff return touchdown in the second half and freshman Dennis Johnson fielded a kickoff too close to the sideline and stepped out inside the 10-yard line.

Petrino classified the mistakes as a special teams meltdown that has left Arkansas' unit, statistically, among the Southeastern Conference's worst.

The Hogs are tied for seventh in kickoff return average (19.1 yards), they're 10th in punt returns (five yards), and 10th in punting (30.2 yards). They're the only SEC team without a field goal after two weeks (0-for-2) and one of two — joining Alabama — to have missed an extra point.

"We've got to do a better job of coaching the guys we've got and doing our assignments, focusing and understanding that if I'm the starting position on offense or defense and I'm on special teams, that play is just as important as any play I play on offense or defense," Petrino said Monday. "I don't know if we'd gotten that across to them yet.

"Obviously it did get across (Sunday) night."

Special teams coordinator Kirk Botkin said Arkansas has spent more time in the meeting room on assignments and responsibilities. He said the rest of the coaches have been more involved. There also have been mass personnel change in hopes of limiting the amount of freshmen contributing.

For example, linebacker Freddy Burton and wide receiver Marques Wade will help after being suspended for two games because off off-season arrests. Linebacker Wendel Davis is also available after being sidelined by injuries.

If that's not enough, Arkansas also dealt out some post-practice punishment for special teams mistakes.

"We had way too many mistakes, way too many guys not doing what they're supposed to do, not doing what they're asked to do during the game, not doing what they're asked to do during practice," Botkin said. "So we had some of the guys see me after practice and we got a little better."

Tejada was one of those players.

The former Springdale High star admitted his struggles were tough to swallow after the game, but he is working to fix the problems. Tejada said the misses were caused by a mechanical problem. Botkin said Tejada's steps were off, but the kicker's concentration also needs to improve.

Tejada — who has missed four straight field goals dating back to the Cotton Bowl — said he's still confident.

"Things happen sometimes," Tejada said. "I just had a bad day. It's already behind me and I'm looking forward. It's a new season. I'm just getting prepared for a big game."

The Razorbacks will decide whether Tejada or Shay Haddock will handle kicking duties for Texas in practice this week. Haddock — who came to Arkansas after one season at Texas Christian — hadn't kicked in a game since high school before knocking two critical extra points through the uprights in the fourth quarter last Saturday.

Haddock said Tejada still worked with the starters during Tuesday's practice. But when Botkin was asked if Tejada would retain his job, his answer was simply, "We'll see."

"I think everybody's pulling for (Tejada)," Botkin said. "I think he'll come out. I think he'll be fine."

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