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Positional Breakdown Part 6: Specialists, Uncertain Potential

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Punters are people too!

NCAA Football: Belk Bowl-Arkansas vs Virginia Tech Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Often overlooked until something goes wrong, the specialists are always an important part of the game. Last season field goal duties were split between Adam McFain and Cole Hedlund. McFain has graduated so duties will fall squarely on Hedlund, who was reliable on extra points but less so on field goals. He went five of seven but never connected over 38 yards in 2016, putting some more pressure on the Hogs’ offense.

If Hedlund can add that extra point level consistency to longer distances then he will be exactly what the Hogs need. He was one of the top recruits coming out of high school, but has struggled with inconsistency. Any field goal over 40 yards will feel like a win for the Hogs this year.

Kickoff duties should be Connor Limpert again. He hit 43 kickoffs and got just nine touchbacks. Like Hedlund, the skills are there but the consistency is yet to be seen, and will need to improve in 2017.

Sophomore Blake Johnson will take over from Toby Baker, who had done an excellent job in 2016. Baker hit 57 punts, had 21 land inside the 20, and only had three touchbacks. Those are big numbers for Johnson to live up to but Bret Bielema has said positive things about Johnson this fall. In 2016 he got a pair of punts off against Texas State. Both went over 45 yards and were fair caught, the Hogs will take that every day.

Arkansas had some good things happen in the return game in 2016, but didn’t do anything spectacular. Kickoff returns have Deon Stewart and T.J. Hammonds returning. Stewart led the team in returns with 21. He did break one for 43 yards but that was his longest of the season.

Jared Cornelius led the team in punt returns, and is the only returning player to field a punt. That means there are a lot of people fighting for opportunities to get on the field. Bielema has specifically mentioned Henre’ Toliver, De’Vion Warren, Chase Hayden, and Jordan Jones as guys in that competition.

Overall, things on special teams needs to improve for Arkansas, and they have the potential to. The big question is always will that potential turn into results.