FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – If Arkansas wide receiver Jared Cornelius doesn’t play Thursday, Aug. 31, in the Razorbacks’ season-opener, the entire healthy wideout corps available to quarterback Austin Allen will have a grand total of three career catches.
Two of those belong to Deon Stewart, the sophomore who has made the most of an unfortunate situation; his teammate aching.
“A lot of guys saw the opportunity to step up and a lot of them took advantage of it,” Stewart said.
Cornelius, the only senior in the unit, isn’t expected to play next week against Florida A&M in Little Rock. It isn’t necessarily because he’s too hurt to go. More it’s the limiting of risk. Cornelius’ back is in better shape than it was – coach Bret Bielema re-inserted him onto the 105-man roster just before camp ended – but he still hasn’t practiced. No need to rush him back against an FCS opponent that went 4-7 last year.
That leaves opportunity for Stewart, the lithe homegrown wideout who’ll pull double-duty as a kick returner.
Stewart is built like a slot guy. He’s 5-foot-11 and about 170 pounds. Wide receivers coach Michael Smith, though, doesn’t roll his guys that way. Smith wants everyone practicing everywhere. So, Stewart, sophomore La’Michael Pettway and sophomore junior-college transfer Jonathan Nance have done so.
“Really, I’m playing all three positions. All four if we put in a certain personnel package,” Stewart said. “It’s really not that much of a difference. You can line up all over the field and run whatever. For Smitty (Smith), he wants us to learn inside and outside, so we can get in faster.”
Stewart had one catch against Alcorn State early last season and then another against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl to end the year. Pettway has the other only reception.
But there is zero worry from Stewart, Smith or anyone else. Cornelius will be back soon. And even for the opener, it’s the new blood’s time to shine.
“I think most of us are all ready.”
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