Position Analysis: Quick newcomers dot WR lineup

FAYETTEVILLE — The largely new wide receiving corps for the University of Arkansas has dubbed their group the “Slideouts.” The term refers to speed.
Andrew Armstrong, Tyrone Broden and Isaiah Sategna from the group have all hit 22 mph in the tracking from their Catapult vests through summer testing, strength and conditioning Coach Ben Sowders said. The rest of the corps has logged times beyond the 21-mph level.
“If one person hits 22, the next person is like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve got to get that. I’ve got to top that,’ ” said Sategna, a redshirt freshman from Fayetteville.
“It just feels regular because we’re all running beside each other,” said Armstrong, a 6-4, 201-pound transfer from Texas A&M-Commerce. “It’s like we’re trying to see who’s going to run the fastest. But when the times came out that we ran that 22 [mph], I was really amazed myself.
“I give all credit to the strength staff and this training staff because they got our hamstrings feeling great.”
Sategna said it’s “all competition” in the wide receiver room.
“We call ourselves the ‘Slideouts’ and you can really see because a lot of people are over 22, and that’s nothing to play with,” he said.
Of course, just being fast doesn’t equate to catching passes from quarterback KJ Jefferson and helping the running game by blocking on the edges.
Position coach Kenny Guiton, speaking after the fifth practice of camp Tuesday, sounded stoked about the unit even though he’s working with a huge number of new faces joining holdovers like Sategna, Bryce Stephens, Jaedon Wilson and Sam Mbake.
Guiton said the competition for playing time in the corps could match or exceed his first two groups at Arkansas.
“You can’t take a step off,” Guiton said. “You can’t take a play off. You can’t take a rep off. If you do, the next man behind you is coming to take your spot. He’s coming to try and be that starter.”
For instance, Stephens and Sategna are splitting reps at the slot and a big group of players is batting for playing time at the other spots, led by Armstrong, Broden, fellow transfer Isaac TeSlaa, Mbake and Wilson.
The numbers for the returning group is paltry.
The returning trio of Stephens, Sategna and Wilson combined for 14 receptions for 170 yards and a touchdown last season, and a big chunk of that came on Stephens’ 54-yard scoring catch at Mississippi State.
Those figures represent 9.4% of the unit’s 149 catches, 7.6% of its 2,238 receiving yards and 5.9% of the group’s 17 touchdowns a year ago. Top 2022 wideouts Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers are on NFL rosters, while Ketron Jackson Jr. transferred to Baylor and Warren Thompson left the program.
Guiton had to replace 78% of the catches and 80% of the receiving yards last year after losing Treylon Burks, Tyson Morris and DeVion Warren, a current quality control coach, from the 2021 team. So the former Ohio State quarterback is used to dealing with lots of newcomers.
Guiton said his anxiety level was up in January regarding the receivers because of the massive turnover.
“Then you get into spring ball and learn what you’ve got,” Guiton said. “We kind of learned each other. You’ve still got some freshmen coming in. You evaluate over summer workouts. Now you get chances to do OTAs with them.
“The further and further you go, the more ease you start to get. I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully eased until we win some games. But right now, I’m feeling good. I love the competitive nature in our room. You can tell everything is up for grabs. We have plenty of guys competing their butts off in order to be those three starters, but they also know when your time comes to shine you better be ready for it.”
Guiton said the addition of the transfer portal in recent seasons has changed the recruiting and roster building game. Guiton admitted his infusion of the transfer talent last year caused some rocky moments. Coach Sam Pittman seemed to touch on that in the offseason, saying elevating Haselwood into an immediate starter’s role might have led to some tensions.
“The college football landscape changed a bit in the last two, three years,” Guiton said. “I think we’re all kind of learning it. I made some mistakes last year with some things, and I vowed to myself and my players and the other coaches that I wouldn’t do those same things. … I think it’s happened the right way this year.
“And I think it’s kept a lot of mindsets really involved to where they understand what competing is and how to compete. I think it’s helped us all so much more and I’m just proud of the group so far.”
Armstrong and TeSlaa have quickly risen into leadership roles, with Armstrong’s being more vocal, but it came after a feeling-out process in the spring.
“When I came in, I didn’t want them to just put me in a starting role,” Armstrong said. “I wanted to work. I wanted to start from the bottom to show what I can actually do. I feel like I’ve been doing a great job. Not only me, but the young guys, too. They’ve been doing a great job. Sam Mbake, Jaedon, Isaiah. Even all the new guys.”
Defensive backs coach Deron Wilson and cornerback Dwight McGlothern both gave testimonials to Armstrong’s play Monday.
“He’s gotten way better since the spring, and that’s the crazy part about it,” McGlothern said. “I can see it whenever I go against him every day.”
Sategna’s role is set to expand after a redshirt season in which he played in four games and had two receptions for 12 yards, including a 10-yard “strike” pass — a forward-pitch end-around — late in the game at Auburn.
“My focus since the spring game has just been … on the little stuff and the details and stuff,” Sategna said. “Working on my route running and my blocking and obviously my catching.”
Kickoff returns and the screen game are areas Sategna could see more action this fall.
“I love the screen game,” he said. “I get to really utilize my speed on those. I really like screens and hope that we call them in the game.”
Pittman talked up the improvements for Wilson over the winter, but he suffered a broken leg just prior to spring ball and Broden, a transfer from Bowling Green, had a knee injury early in spring that slowed him as well.
“Two guys I’m proud of is Broden and Wilson,” Guiton said. “Two guys that unfortunately missed a bunch of spring. Obviously, Broden wasn’t here before the spring, so we didn’t know exactly what he was.
“To see who he is right now has been really awesome. We always talk about how he’s a 6-7 guy who moves like he’s 6-2. It’s really good to see his competitive nature come out. A guy that has been through a lot just being with us. You can tell he wears that on his sleeve and uses it as motivation.”
It’s fair to say the entire wideout corps is motivated, with ample playing time to be distributed this fall.
Receivers At a Glance
LOSSES Jadon Haselwood (12 starts last season), Matt Landers (12), Ketron Jackson (8), Warren Thompson (5), Harper Cole (1), Jaquayln Crawford, Landon Rogers
WHO’S BACK Sam Mbake, Isaiah Sategna, Bryce Stephens, Jaedon Wilson
WHO’S NEW Andrew Armstrong, Tyrone Broden, Davion Dozier, Dazmin James, Isaac TeSlaa
WALK-ONS Kamron Bibby, Marlon Crockett, Kalil Girault, Chris Harris, Kaylon Morris, Jace Petty, Chris Rhodes
ANALYSIS The recruiting emphasis on size and speed is all over the depth chart. Ten players are 6-2 or taller and Armstrong, Broden and Sategna have all clocked 22 mph or better in testing. There is a huge lack of SEC experience, so the first three nonconference games will be critical for the unit in earning game-day reps from QB KJ Jefferson. Guiton did well incorporating a largely new group in last year, so he has experience at it. Guiton said the early plan is to travel with 9 to 10 receivers, with a core rotation of 6 and the last few being special teams regulars. The most impressive pass catchers in media viewing through five practices have been Armstrong, TeSlaa, Sategna, Bibby and Dozier.

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