By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - Grim though the Razorbacks news was this week with starting fourth-year junior left offensive tackle Colton Jackson of Conway (recent back surgery) and starting senior nickel back spare cornerback/safety Kevin Richardson of Jacksonville (foot surgery last Monday) sidelined at least to midseason, Arkansas did report good recovery news about senior receiver Jared Cornelius.
Arkansas’ best returning receiver on career catches, and a running back-like threat upon reception, Cornelius tore his Achilles tendon in last season’s third game.
Of course, he missed the remainder of the season, allowing his medical hardship return as a 2018 fifth-year senior. He was still limited during drills last spring.
Cornelius is limited no longer as the Razorbacks commence preseason drills Friday.
“Yeah, he’s ready to go,” Arkansas coach Chad Morris said addressing media Monday. “He’s had a good summer. He’s gotten himself back healthy and his cleared and ready to go. Obviously, we will be smart with it. If he experiences any tightness, we’ll back off of it, but he’s had a good summer.”
A great summer in new strength coach Trumain Carroll’s view, as he and new coach Morris and new receivers coach Justin Stepp work with a proven senior proving himself to a new staff.
“I’m very impressed with Jared Cornelius,” Carroll said Monday. “We weren’t able to train him when we first arrived on campus because he was still in the rehab protocol with the athletic trainers. We were able to train him once spring ball ended, and you’re talking about a guy who’s made his gains essentially through May up until today. But he’s a guy that coming off the Achilles surgery, now he’s cleaning 300 pounds. Now he’s squatting close to 400 pounds. He’s moving very well. His vertical jump I want to say went up about three or four inches.”
While cornerbacks and safeties share attributes and responsibilities, ideally there’s a little difference in their makeup.
It reflects in the switch of sophomore Kamren Curl’s move from corner to strong safety.
Last year’s emergency rookie cornerback starter when now returned senior cornerback Ryan Pulley was felled by a season-ending injury in the season opener, Curl’s current 6-2, 201 build reflects a safety taking on the tight end and run support compared to the cornerback’s need for pure speed on an island against the fastest wideouts.
Curl not only is bigger now, but strength coach Carroll deems him faster, too.
“I have to highlight that a big gainer is Kamren Curl,” Carroll said. “He weighed in at 187 in January and now he’s walking around at 201.
“He’s another guy that put on a lot of muscle and he’s moving around a lot better than he did back in January.”
Morris is impressed.
“He’s taken unbelievable ownership,” Morris said of Curl’s position switch.
“He’s transformed his body. When you see before and afters of this guy… And his attention to detail, so we’re expecting him to have a big year. He’s an experienced guy.”
Recruiting coordinator Mark Smith, assisting coach Ron Cooper with the defensive backs, said Curl’s increased muscle mass is required at safety but so is the need for speed that Carroll said actually improved.
“We got our numbers back from Coach Tru in the weight room and he’s done a lot to transform his body in a great way that’s going to help him this season,” Smith said. “He’s put on some weight, but more importantly, he put on the right weight. He’s leaned his body mass and that’s really what we look at. Our safeties play some man coverage on inside receivers. So it will really benefit with him having the experience he had at corner last year at safety this year.”
Smith said, “Kamren really had a great spring,” adjusting to safety.
“Kamren has got a very smart football IQ,” Smith said. “He can process things quickly and that’s what we need at the safety position. A lot of diagnosing goes on pre-snap. We were very pleased with his development in terms of that.”