Arkansas opened preseason camp without one of its top receivers Monday.
Sophomore Mekale McKay may not join the Razorbacks, either.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema confirmed McKay is contemplating a transfer after the two met last week. Bielema described the sophomore’s status as “exploring some options,” but added no formal scholarship release has been granted for McKay.
“He and I had a conversation a week ago where he wanted to look at different options that could be available,” Bielema said. “Haven’t done a formal release, but obviously, a guy that has a lot of options in front of him if he does choose to leave.
“I told him I’d work with him the best I can in any way possible to help him get something that he’s looking for.”
McKay caught 21 passes for 317 yards with 2 touchdowns last season, making an instant impact as a true freshman. He was scheduled to be part of a receiving corps that also includes seniors Javontee Herndon, Julian Horton and Demetrius Wilson.
But it’s no secret Arkansas will not turn to as many receivers in the past, when three- and four-receiver sets were the norm under former coach Bobby Petrino.
Bielema indicated the change in style was the reason for McKay’s unhappiness.
“During transition there’s going to be certain guys that kind of just jump in and go full speed ahead and there’s going to be others that maybe it just isn’t the same,” Bielema said. “I know he did express an interest to me into a type of offense that was kind of here prior to. He’s obviously a very talented football player that is more than adequate to handle everything. But sometimes the fit just isn’t there.”
McKay could not be reached for comment about his status Monday.
The 6-foot-6 McKay was a dual-sport star in high school, excelling as a basketball player as well. He chose Arkansas over Ole Miss, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisville and Cincinnati. McKay had other scholarship offers to play basketball as well.
The timing is unusual, considering Arkansas had revealed a short list of players who were going to transfer after spring practice. That list included quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who has since transferred to North Carolina State.
But Bielema said he wasn’t surprised Monday, believing McKay wanted to work through the spring and offseason to “see what could happen.”
“During the course of the summer we’re not around them, so I really don’t know what happened during that timeframe,” Bielema said. “As we started to solidify the (105-man roster) it became kind of apparent to me that there might be some questions about him so I brought him in and sat him down.
“Kind of similar to what I did with Brandon Mitchell. Said, ‘Hey, let’s not ignore something that’s not there. If you want to explore some options I’m here to help you find something that makes you happy.’ That’s all I want.”
There’s no doubt sophomore Brandon Allen — who Bielema said had a “nice day” to open preseason practices — is Arkansas’ first-team quarterback this month.
But how did the Razorbacks line up behind him?
Bielema said most of the second-team repetitions went to Iowa transfer A.J. Derby, who moved into the No. 2 spot after Mitchell transferred in the spring. He also said junior Brian Buehner was next in line, while freshmen Austin Allen and Damon Mitchell worked in the quarterback rotation from there.
“A.J. Derby took the majority of reps with the No. 2s, I would guess, if we charted them all,” Bielema said. “Which I know we did. (Brian) Buehner did a nice job in there as well. Then between Duwop and Austin, they took the rest of the reps.”
Arkansas was missing one player from its 2013 signing class Monday. But the Razorbacks shouldn’t be waiting long for receiver Melvinson Hartfield.
Bielema said Hartfield has qualified, but is waiting for final approval from the NCAA before arriving for preseason camp. He expects that to come today or Wednesday.
“It’s all been cleared,” Bielema said. “It just hasn’t officially been cleared through the NCAA documentation. So that’s the only other guy that we’re really waiting on.”
Bielema said punter Sam Irwin-Hill, who wasn’t on campus this summer, did arrive in time for camp. He practiced with the team Monday and Bielema said he “looked good hitting the ball.” Irwin-Hill — who is a native of Australia — will compete with senior place kicker Zack Hocker for punting duties this month.
Watch list Smith
Defensive end Chris Smith was named to the preseason watch list for the Hendricks Award on Monday. The senior is one of 22 players on the watch list for the award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top defensive end.
Smith is one of two defensive ends from the Southeastern Conference on the Hendricks Award watch list, joining South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney. Both players were elected to the SEC media’s preseason All-SEC team in July.
Smith — who led Arkansas with 9 1/2 sacks in 2012 — is now on four watch lists for national awards this summer. The North Carolina native also is on the watch list for the Bednarik Award (best defensive player), Bronko Nagurski Trophy (most outstanding defensive player) and Lombardi Award (top lineman or linebacker).