This is first story in a 10-part, position-by-position series previewing the 2013 Razorbacks. Next up: Special teams
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas receiver D’Arthur Cowan was excited to get on the field as a true freshman last season. It didn’t matter at the time the opportunity came in mid-October, when the Razorbacks’ hopes for success had been shattered.
So it wasn’t until later Cowan realized what happened after catching just three passes for 14 yards in six games. One valuable season of eligibility was over.
“At the moment I felt like it was good for the team,” Cowan said of having his redshirt removed by the previous Arkansas coaching staff halfway through the season. “I was trying to help out. But at the end of the day, I kind of think back and say, ‘Yeah, I should’ve taken that redshirt because it would’ve been better for me.’”
But Cowan isn’t sulking about the past as he prepares for 2013 under a new coaching staff. The Mississippi native, instead, is chalking up his limited cameo from 2012 as a learning experience that will help in on the field this fall.
The Mississippi native has shown plenty of promise so far, working in a group led by the senior trio of Javontee Herndon, Julian Horton and Demetrius Wilson. He has been one of the most impressive wideouts through the first two weeks of practice and is working to secure a spot in Arkansas’ receiving rotation.
“I think he can be used in a lot of different ways,” coach Bret Bielema said during Arkansas’ media day on Sunday. “I like his length. Not only is he tall, he’s got long arms. I just like his demeanor and his personality. He’s the one guy that I think consistently shows up and is the same guy pretty much every day.”
Cowan was targeted 15 times – and coming up with 15 catches – during Arkansas’ first practice last Monday, according to coaches. He capped the week by catching four passes for 54 yards during the first summer scrimmage in Razorback Stadium
It included a 31-yard play to open a drive with the second-team offense.
“Really I was just running down the field and I was thinking he was throwing to the other side,” Cowan said. “But I didn’t give up on the play because we talk don’t ever give up on the play because the ball might come your way. I was just running and I saw the ball coming in, so I had to adjust. All passes are not perfect.”
Cowan’s ability to make the play drew praise from coaches and teammates.
“He’s providing depth for us, more knowledge of the game, more knowledge of concepts, more knowledge of every position on the field,” Arkansas receiver Julian Horton said. “We’re looking for him to make great plays for us.”
Cowan has been far from perfect through one week. No one has.
Bielema indicated Cowan has dropped some passes in the preseason, something that must be corrected. Cowan acknowledged it. So did receivers coach Michael Smith, who also said it’s clear Cowan is making “tremendous progress” as Arkansas continues to grow as a passing offense under the new staff.
“D’Arthur has put himself to compete for the starting job,” Smith said. “He’s another guy I’m trying to force feed to get to learn this offense. And right now he’s responding pretty well so I’m happy with the progress he’s making.”
Cowan said the compliments are appreciated. He worked hard to prepare for his sophomore season, gaining strength and adding weight in the offseason.
Cowan also knows the recent history of Arkansas receivers with players like Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Cobi Hamilton moving on to the NFL after success careers. He wants to be part of the new wave of talented pass catchers.
The 2012 season didn’t exactly go as Cowan expected after having his redshirt pulled off at midseason. But he said plans to use the limited experience to his advantage in 2013 as Arkansas looks toward new playmakers at receiver.
“I feel like I’ve made great strides since last season.”
A closer look at … WIDE RECEIVERS
• Best of the Bunch: Javontee Herndon — The senior is Arkansas’ leading returning receiver and has looked like the team’s most likely big-play threat in 2013. Herndon showed signs of being a durable pass catcher while turning in a handful of key plays last season, including a 63-yard touchdown in the season opener. The Florida native has developed a good rapport with quarterback Brandon Allen and has shown maturity and leadership on the field in preseason practices.
• Watch out for: Drew Morgan — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has said Morgan will play as a freshman after his work on the field the first week. Don’t be surprised if the Greenwood native makes the most of his opportunities. Morgan still has plenty of veterans in front of him, but has shown the skills and athleticism needed to produce as Arkansas tries to build a six- or seven-player receiving rotation.
• Biggest strength: The Razorbacks have good leadership with the trio of Javontee Herndon, Julian Horton and Demetrius Wilson. They should prove to be steady support for a new quarterback and a relatively young group. Outside of the seniors, the group includes two sophomores, a redshirt freshman and true freshman.
• Biggest question: Arkansas lost a key player when Mekale McKay transferred to Cincinnati. The sophomore had issues in the transition, but left 2012 as the team’s best vertical threat and top red zone option. Finding players to fill those roles this preseason will be important if Arkansas wants to be a dangerous passing team.
• Projected starter: Javontee Herndon, Sr., (21 catches, 317 yards, 3 TDs in 2012); Julian Horton, Sr., (14 catches, 193 yards, 2 TDs in 2012)
• Other contributors: Demetrius Wilson, Sr., (9 catches, 117 yards, TD); Keon Hatcher, So., (3 catches, 21 yards, TD); D’Arthur Cowan, So., (3 catches, 14 yards); Eric Hawkins, RS-Fr., (N/A); Drew Morgan, Fr. (N/A)
• That Figures: 2 — Consecutive seasons Arkansas has had a receiver top the 1,000-yard mark after Jarius Wright in 2011 (1,117) yards and Cobi Hamilton in 2012 (1,335). They are responsible for two of the three 1,000-yard receiving seasons in school history, joining former Razorback Anthony Lucas (1,004 yards in 1998). The 1,000-yard streak could end this season as Arkansas moves into a new offensive philosophy. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney did produce a 1,000-yard receiver at Tennessee last season, though, when Justin Hunter had 1,083 yards.
• Quotable: “We’ve seen guys do it. We’ve been playing here behind greats, playing behind some of the best receivers to play here at Arkansas. So seeing them do that just made us more hungry to know we can do that. We played behind them, so it’s finally our time to shine.” — Arkansas receiver Julian Horton on how he and classmate Javontee Herndon feel preparing for their senior seasons.