FAYETTEVILLE — De’Vion Warren is a senior wide receiver for the University of Arkansas, but also has been excellent on special teams returning kickoffs.
Warren was limited to nine games last fall due to injuries. He caught four passes for 19 yards. He did return 16 kickoffs for 326 yards with a long of 37. He talked about how he is doing at receiver this preseason.
“This fall camp has been really big,” Warren said. “Being my last year I’ve been able to focus on my craft and really study the playbook and be a leader in that room as the oldest guy in there. So being able to step up and lead guys that may have had more playing time than me and maybe been better players than me and to step up and lead them. And to make it fun again because really that’s the key to this. Making this fun and everything different because we’ve not been able to do the same stuff we’re used to. Like we’re on a Zoom call here. Making it fun has really been the best thing for me to do right now.”
Arkansas has a new offensive coordinator in Kendal Briles who runs a tempo offense. Warren talked about how that is going for him and the receivers.
“We’re fitting good,” Warren said. “The one thing about Coach Briles is if certain people don’t understand what’s going on, he slows it down and makes sure we understand what we have to do and what is our assignment. The tempo has been really good. We’re learning to get in better shape and move the ball faster. We’re not where he wants us to be, but we’re taking the right steps every day.”
Warren will likely be catching passes from senior Feleipe Franks and redshirt freshman KJ Jefferson. He likes the chemistry he has with both.
“The improvement that KJ has had since he’s been here has been incredible,” Warren said. “More from a confidence standpoint he’s able to take control of the offense and take control of the team he’s working with. He’s been great. A guy like Feleipe has been doing this for a couple of years so coming in and take passes from him is a big thing. It feels really good. But it’s not just that. He allows us to make plays after the catch. He gets us in the right spots, not just as a receiver but as an offensive unit together. He makes sure you are in the right alignment and the right calls are being made. It’s pretty good to have a coach as a quarterback on the field.”
Arkansas’ big three of Mike Woods, Treylon Burks and Trey Knox are well known, but Warren has T.J. Hammonds, a converted running back, among the receivers he’s competing with as well.
“It’s been a great competition,” Warren said. “Meaning that it’s a spot for both of us to get better with stuff and learn the stuff need to work on. I may have a great day of work while he’s working on his technique and I’m working on helping him and I might have a bad day and he’s helping me. It helps us grow. That’s what you need because you need somebody to come in and give you a break.”
While Warren and the Hogs will have to wait until Sept. 26 to play a game, some college football has already started. How anxious has that made Warren to play?
“Watching the games makes me want to play,” Warren said. “It’s kind of weird but you watch from a different standpoint. It’s almost like you’re a coach. Also you watch and learn to see what other teams and other players do at your position. So it’s actually been kind of good and kind of helpful to see what other teams are doing. It’s actually been pretty fun.”
Scott Fountain is the special team’s coordinator and he has made a strong impression on Warren.
“The thing about Coach Fountain he wants your all every rep every play,” Warren said. “He wants you to be able to play multiple special teams and multiple special teams positions. He wants you to give 110 percent on those special teams. The key what he’s gotten us to do is we go through a very tough period and then we go to special teams because when it comes to a game, the transition of going from offense or defense to special teams is a big key. A lot of people are tired so he tries to make it as game like as possible. That’s big time tough which is a good thing.”
Fountain is also impressed with Warren.
“De’Vion’s a kid that I really like,” Fountain said. “He’s a really smart kid. He picks it up quick, and he’s a guy that as we move forward I’m going to have to see how big his role is on the offense. But he’s certainly a guy that is going to help us in the return game. He’s also a guy that I think can play some other spots for us. Possibly on the punt team. I could possibly use him on the kickoff coverage unit. … He’s a really good return guy. But he can do a lot of things, too. I’ve been really pleased with him.”
In addition to returning kickoffs, Warren talked about his special team duties.
“Punt, punt return and kickoff coverage,” Warren said. “Every one besides field goal block.”
Arkansas and Warren will open with Georgia. The Bulldogs have a highly-touted defense.
“Great team, great well-coached team,” Warren said. “Great defense. It’s just we have to be on our best game and we have to be able to study and know what they’re going to do. They are coached by a great staff, but we are also coached by a great staff, so it’s going to be a great game. We just have to be able to go out there and compete and give it our all.”
While Georgia is the opener, the schedule is an all-SEC one with 10 games. Warren offered up his thoughts on that.
“The 10-game schedule, we saw it and were like, ‘Yes. Yes. Yes,’” Warren said. “We all know why I said yes because that gives you an opportunity to play some of the best teams in the country that most people don’t get the opportunity. That’s an opportunity as a kid that you wish you could have. I feel like that’s a good opportunity for us to go and show what this Arkansas team is made of. We’ve been through ups and downs through the last couple of years, but this year, we’re here to make a statement no matter who we play, no matter where we’re going. It’s that we’re going to give it our all.
“The thing is same for the fans. Improvements are coming. Coach Pitt and his staff are wonderful. They have put us in the right directions since they got here. It’s just major improvement. It’s more of a trust, being able to trust Coach Pitt and know he’s going to take care of us and his staff is going to put us in the right positions to do better and be better for ourselves.”
The Georgia kickoff will be 3 p.m. in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.