NCF Nation: Javontee Herndon

Cobi Hamilton isn't walking through Arkansas' doors in 2013.

He may come back for a visit or two, but he won't be suiting up for the Razorbacks, which means that his single season school-record 90 receptions and 1,335 receiving yards aren't returning, either.

With a relatively inexperienced quarterback in Brandon Allen taking over and a brand new coaching staff in town, the Hogs will surely miss a top-flight receiver like Hamilton, but things aren't totally bleak in Fayetteville. The good news is that the Hogs will be able to replace Hamilton with numbers -- veteran numbers.

[+] EnlargeJavontee Herndon
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsThe toughness of Arkansas WR Javontee Herndon has caught the eye of new coach Bret Bielema.
Arkansas has three senior receivers -- Javontee Herndon, Julian Horton and Demetrius Wilson -- sitting atop the post-spring depth chart. Now, they might only have 67 combined receptions among them, but they've been around the game long enough to generate some confidence in the coaching staff this spring.

Their hunger to make things right again at Arkansas during their last go-round also excites Arkansas' coaching staff.

"When you have three seniors and it's as important to them as it is, the other guys can kind of take shape around them," coach Bret Bielema said. "I expect them to lead us."

Herndon will enter the fall with the most production of the three. He has 31 career receptions for 473 yards and three touchdowns. He caught 21 of those passes and all of his touchdowns last year. Herndon's on-field attitude and toughness really impressed Bielema this spring.

"Probably one of the more physical guys in our group," Bielema said of Herndon.

While Wilson, who came from the junior college ranks last year, only caught nine passes in his first year with the Hogs in 2012, Bielema said he was Arkansas' top performer at receiver this spring. The thing that really made him stand out was his consistency and he bought into the offense and what coaches asked him to do.

"Everything he does is 100 miles an hour," Bielema said. "He's very engaged, he's very hard on himself. If he makes a mistake or does something that he knows is wrong he's very critical, but is quick to rebound and make a great play after it."

Then you have Horton, who caught 14 passes last year. He has the physical ability to be a real playmaker in this offense with his speed and elusiveness. Bielema said he really came on during the last few weeks of spring practice.

It's not going to be easy to replace Hamilton -- or his production -- but the Hogs have bodies to work with. The next step is really developing that on-field confidence during game situations. It'll be tough with a younger QB taking over, but this is where coaches have to lean on their vets.

The Hogs will call upon youngsters like Mekale McKay and Keon Hatcher to help this fall, but to have three seniors clicking like they are exiting spring is a big win for this new coaching staff.
We continue my chat with Arkansas senior fullback Kiero Small.

What did he think about Bret Bielema's joking jab at Nick Saban and Alabama? Does he like Arkansas being a huge underdog this year?

Let's find out:

You’ve been around this program for a couple of years now and have seen some big highs and bad lows, so what’s the feeling like for you and some of your teammates this spring with everything being so new?

Kiero Small: For me, right now, it’s a good feeling. It’s steady and I know what’s coming next. I know the coaching staff is going to be here. You know, this time last year, we were all in an uproar and we didn’t really know what was going to happen. It feels good to know what’s coming and to know that Coach “B” (Bret Bielema) and all of the rest of the coaching staff have our backs and they are going to put us in the best situations to be good.

I know your coach caused a little bit of a stir this week when he was joking about Nick Saban, but do you guys like that? Do you like the confidence that he’s brought and the fact that he isn’t afraid to say stuff like that?

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireIn Bret Bielema, Arkansas players know they have a coach who isn't lacking confidence.
KS: I’ve seen it here and there, but I didn’t really see what context it was in and I didn’t really get to read it. Coach B is a guy that believes in himself and he believes in us. That helps us know that when we go out on the football field it’s going to be us against whoever we play and it’s going to be our set of guys against their set of guys and our coaches against theirs. It’s a good feeling to know that your coach has confidence.

Does it feel like you guys are flying under the radar right now, and do you like that feeling?

KS: I like it a lot. Right now, no one is talking about us. Everybody is making their (preseason) picks and everything of that sort and should they (pick Arkansas)? We didn’t have a good year last year and lost a lot of guys, but this team has taken on more of a working mentality. We have to go and make our own name. It’s a new regime and it’s time for us to go pick a name for ourselves, but, you know, last year we were picked to beat everybody. We were picked to win a lot of games and picked to be great and it didn’t turn out that way. At the end of the day, those picks really don’t mean anything. You have to go out and play football.

You guys have a lot of young parts coming back on offense, but what have you seen so far this spring that excites you about that side of the ball?

KS: A lot of guys have a working mentality and at every position group you have maybe one or two guys who have been here a long time. On the (offensive) line we got [Travis] Swanson, you got me in the running backs room, you’ve got Javontee [Herndon] in the receivers room and you have [Austin] Tate in the tight ends room, so you have one guy or two guys who have been here for a long time and the young guys are really preparing themselves behind them. That’s a sight to see when you have young guys who are willing to learn and willing to go and attack practice every day.

What have you seen from the quarterbacks so far this spring?

KS: It’s been pretty good. We have some competition there. You like to see competition, especially at that position. Every day they are racking their brains to try and be good and make the plays. It’s been a steady competition and good to see. You have two guys (Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell) who can get the job done. Right now they are battling to see who is going to make it happen for this year. There are no set positions. Everybody is having to look over their shoulder and have to be able to go and attack practice.

What do you guys really want to get out of spring practice this year?

KS: Right now, we’re just trying to learn these new systems and new schemes. We’re playing fast, but the coaches are doing a good job of simplifying things so we can learn it, which allows us to play faster. I really like that. They’re not trying to complicate things because at the end of the day we don’t have games on Saturdays. We have the spring game and we have scrimmages, but now we get to learn and that’s going to push us through the summer so in (fall) camp we have a basis for what is going on.

Stifling pass rush sparks Arkansas

October, 6, 2012
10/06/12
3:34
PM ET

Even with a new quarterback, Auburn couldn't manage to find much semblance of an offense in its third SEC loss of the season.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik replaced starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier with backup Clint Moseley at halftime of the Tigers' 24-7 loss to Arkansas on Saturday. Frazier threw an interception and failed to register any points in another abysmal first half for the Auburn offense.

Moseley couldn't manage much better against an unstoppable Razorbacks pass rush, however. Arkansas came into the game allowing 40.6 points per game -- last in the SEC. That average will drop all the way down to 35 points after holding Auburn to one touchdown, largely thanks to a pass rush that generated a whopping eight sacks against a completely overmatched Auburn offensive line.

Even when the Tigers could keep their quarterbacks upright, they still committed five turnovers on the afternoon. Moseley fired two interceptions along with Frazier's one, and the Tigers coughed up a pair of fumbles.

Those horrific stats made a stop-and-start Arkansas performance look masterful by comparison. It looked like the Razorbacks would blow Auburn off the field early when they racked up 224 yards on the way to a 10-0 lead at halftime. But ugly miscues -- such as a missed 26-yard field goal and a muffed third-quarter punt -- allowed the Tigers to hang around and cut the lead as close as 10-7 at the end of the third quarter.

Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, who finished the day with 216 yards on 20-of-27 passing, led the Razorbacks into the Auburn red zone on his first drive of the fourth quarter. From there wide receiver Brandon Mitchell fired a 26-yard touchdown pass to fellow wideout Javontee Herndon on a trick play, putting Auburn in what proved to be an inescapable 10-point hole.

Arkansas running back Dennis Johnson carried the bulk of the ground game in place of starter Knile Davis, who did not appear to be injured. Johnson toted the rock 16 times for 70 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His second touchdown of the day put Arkansas up 24-7 with 8:20 to play.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.

5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Don McPeak/US PresswireWide receiver Jordan Matthews is one player the Commodores will be counting on this fall.
6. Vanderbilt: This group surprised last year and returns most of its components, starting with Jordan Matthews, who was fourth in the SEC in receiving last year. Sophomore Chris Boyd was solid last year, hauling in 31 catches and eight touchdowns. Jonathan Krause is very good in space and should see his role increase this fall after a solid spring. The coaches are excited about former QB Josh Grady moving to receiver. Replacing tight end Brandon Barden won't be easy.

7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.

9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.

10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.

11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.

12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.

13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.

14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.

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