Hogs begin to adjust to life without Burks in bowl practices

Arkansas junior wide receiver Treylon Burks / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

Confirmation came last week of rumors that had been circulating since early November that Razorback star receiver Treylon Burks would not play in Arkansas’ bowl appearance so he could begin preparing himself for the NFL Draft.

This practice has become common for players expected to be first-round draft picks in recent years like Burks.

It’s been fun watching Burks this season and for his entire career at Arkansas, and no doubt all Hogs fans will be pulling for his success in the NFL.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Penn State (Outback Bowl)
When: 11 a.m. Jan. 1
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

Like all other Razorback fans, I would like to see Burks play in the bowl game, and I think he’ll be missing out on a lot of fun with his Razorback buddies by opting out, but it’s his life and his decision.

As a 50-something-year-old fellow, I’d love to roll back the clock and have an all-expenses paid trip to Florida with my old college buddies.

There’s some experiences you only get a shot at once in life. Friendships change as you age. It’s just not the same as when you were younger.

But business is business, and Burks’ business is all about his body and his health. His first NFL contract will mean life-changing money for him and his family.

While Arkansas no longer releases much information about injuries, Burks has been dealing with an assortment of bumps, bruises, and injuries, really, since early in training camp.

From Zoom interview appearances after practices and games, it was clear to see that his shoulders were often being iced. Early in the season, he wore a protective boot on his foot and ankle, but still played on Saturdays.

Now, playing hurt isn’t uncommon, but maybe he needs an extra few weeks of rehab to be at his best for the NFL Combine and any workouts he might choose to go through for teams interested in his immense talent and set of skills.

As for the Razorbacks, it is an opportunity for the team to get prepared for life after Burks in the bowl practices that begin Friday.

The door of opportunity now is wide open for Arkansas’ other receivers to step forward and establish a new pecking order. That’s going to be important not only for the bowl matchup with Penn State, but also for next season.

So for players like Ketron Jackson and Bryce Stephens, this becomes a time when they can step forward. The same is true for older Hogs like Trey Knox, who played well after moving to tight end this year, and Warren Thompson, who had some ups and downs but overall a good year.

Sophomore quarterback K.J. Jefferson had an outstanding season in his first year as a starter for the Hogs, and he specialized in hooking up with Burks for big plays. As Jefferson continues to mature as a quarterback and leader, it’s going to be interesting and exciting to watch him adjust to the game without his primary target.

One player who will attempt to bridge that talent gap in the spring is 6-3 receiver Jadon Haselwood, who recently decided to transfer from Oklahoma to Arkansas after his head coach Lincoln Riley moved on from the Sooners to take same post at Southern Cal.

Haselwood was the top-rated receiver in his recruiting class, but struggled with injuries at Oklahoma. He made 39 catches for 399 yards and six touchdowns this season. He will have two years of eligibility at Arkansas.

As much as the pre-bowl practices are to prepare for the game, they are also useful in working out younger players as they begin their quest to move up the depth chart for next season.

How well they perform in bowl practices will affect where they start out in spring practice. Now is the the time for players desiring more playing time to make their move and catch their position coach’s attention.

In recent days, Burks and five other Hogs received All-SEC honors. The SEC coaches named Burks and senior cornerback Montaric “Busta” Brown to their first team and linebacker Bumper Pool to the second team. The Associated Press’ poll of sports writers named Burks to its first team, and center Ricky Stromberg and Pool to its second team.

Place kicker Cam Little and running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders also made the SEC All-Freshman team, which was announced Thursday.

Earlier in the week, senior linebacker Grant Morgan also won the Burlsworth Trophy, which honors the top walk-on or former walk-on player each season. It was a well deserved honor for Morgan, who perhaps deserved to take home the award last year when he led the SEC in tackles.

Some thought Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett might nudge past Morgan for the award this year, but as we saw in the SEC Championship Game, it was the talent that surrounded Bennett that lifted him up rather than the other way around.

Morgan, overlooked by Arkansas’ previous defensive staff, thrived under current Razorback defensive coordinator Barry Odom and turned into a tackling machine for the Hogs and became an unquestioned leader for the entire team.

The Burlsworth Trophy, of course, bears the name of former Razorback offensive guard Brandon Burlsworth, who started his career at Arkansas as a walk-on. He was championed by former Razorback assistant coach, recruiting coordinator and head of the Razorback Foundation Harold Horton, to then head coach Danny Ford. Burlsworth became starter as a sophomore and wound up his career earning first-team All-American honors in 1998 under former head coach Houston Nutt.

Less than a week after he was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1999, Burlsworth died in a tragic automobile accident with a large truck while traveling between Fayetteville and his hometown of Harrison.

No doubt, it was a great moment for Marty Burlsworth, Brandon’s brother, to present the trophy to Morgan, another Razorback.