Tejada, Tucker Team to Solve Kicking Woes

Editor's Note: This is the seventh story in a position-by-position series previewing the Razorbacks. Up next: Offensive line

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas kicker Alex Tejada and holder Austin Tucker can't wait for the first field goal attempt.

The Springdale natives know they're not the only ones. They understand Arkansas will be watching its kicking game after last season's struggles and there will be a fair share of skeptics after so many nauseating experiences, too.

That leaves just one chance to make a good impression.

"The first one is always one of the tougher ones," Tejada said Tuesday. "We're just going to have to go out there and nail it."

Tejada, who attended Springdale High, and Tucker, who went to Shiloh Christian, have teamed up this preseason hoping to solve Arkansas' field goal troubles.

Tejada played a big hand in the problems last season, making just 4 of 9 attempts. But he spent the offseason retooling his approach and rebuilding his confidence.

Tucker, meanwhile, has been selected as Tejada's holder and will get his first chance to play after sitting out for two seasons. "It's a big deal to us," Tucker said of the opportunity. "We've put a lot of work into it. It's time to make it happen."

Tejada and Tucker have known each other since the 10th grade, attending the same church. Tejada kicked at Springdale High, while Tucker threw passes at Shiloh Christian.

They came to Arkansas — Tejada on scholarship and Tucker as a walk-on — and roomed together in 2006. But they've never performed on the field together until this preseason.

Tucker's past helped him win the job. He was a holder in high school and his experience at quarterback interested Arkansas.

"He's a competitor," Tejada said. "The things he did at Shiloh and his experience, playing in big games, that's Austin Tucker. That's why I love him holding for me. I know I can trust him."

Tucker said he's equally confident in Tejada's abilities despite the kicker's struggles as a sophomore.

"Alex has worked a lot on form and technique," Tucker said. "He's gotten a lot better and we've developed a chemistry between us, getting everything the right way for him to kick it."

But the success of the partnership will be based on results and those have been mixed so far this preseason. During Saturday's scrimmage, they were given five chances to make field goals before the halftime break. Three were good.

Tejada started well, making two from 31 yards. A 44-yard attempt never got close because of a miscue on Tucker's hold, and Tejada banged another off the goal post. But the final attempt — a 48-yarder — sailed through the uprights.

It wasn't perfect. But it was better than previous practices, something special teams coach John L. Smith noted.

"I felt like (Tejada) was looser," Smith said. "I felt like he swung the leg better and everything worked better."

Tejada and Tucker hope those kinds of results will continue over the next week and into the opener on Sept. 4 against Missouri State in Little Rock. There's no telling when the Razorbacks will attempt a field goal, but the two said they'll be ready.

One make or miss won't define a season. Tejada and Tucker want to make a good impression, though.

"We just want to go out there and hit them," Tejada said.



At A Glance

Inside The Arkansas ... Special Teams

Best of the Bunch: Joe Adams. It's hard to pick one player since so many contribute, but Adams is the most explosive. He returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown in Saturday's scrimmage and should boost an area that has struggled.

Watch Out For: Terrell Williams. The freshman looks primed to play a handful of roles on special teams, working with the kick and punt teams. The Razorbacks believe the linebacker could gain valuable experience with his special teams contributions.

Biggest Strength: Numbers. Last year, Arkansas didn't have many choices when it came to special teams and it showed. But with better depth and quality, there have been plenty of choices. It means Arkansas can find the best fits.

Biggest Question: The kickers. Arkansas isn't sure what it's going to get in Alex Tejada, who has been inconsistent through preseason camp. The same can be said at punter, where Briton Forester and Dylan Breeding continue to battle for the job.

That Figures: 109 — Arkansas' NCAA ranking, out of 119 teams, in punt return yardage last season. The Razorbacks averaged a paltry 5.3 yards a punt return in 2008.

The Lingo: "That's behind me. I'm 100 percent just looking forward right now. I spent a year thinking about it or whatever. But it's done now. It's buried." — Junior Alex Tejada on his place kicking struggles in 2008.

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