FAYETTEVILLE — Alex Tejada’s left knee is starting to feel better. His confidence, however, remains a work in progress.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has faith in his sophomore kicker when he lines up in practice to attempt a field goal. Petrino trusts Tejada’s strong, right leg.
But the former Springdale High star admits he’s trying to regain his confidence and his accuracy after suffering a knee injury in late May that prevented him from kicking for 5-6 weeks.
“My confidence is increasing every day. We’re still trying to get better every day, but it definitely helps that I’ve been here a year and know how things are run,” Tejada said.
“... I’m trying to get that confidence back to where it has (been) and use it to my advantage.”
There was no doubt that Tejada would be named Arkansas’ starting kicker when he stepped on campus as a freshman this time a year ago.
And after scoring a team-high 109 points in 2007 — a touchdown more than Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden — Tejada had planned to spend this past summer kicking and lifting weights.
But then the sophomore dislocated his left kneecap while running shuttle drills with his teammates during a morning workout on May 30.
Tejada was familiar with the injury. He had a history of dislocating his kneecap as a soccer player at Springdale High, but he feared at first that he had done something much worse to his knee.
“I knew what had happened, but I was really afraid if it was anything else that had happened. Just because of the way I went down, I thought maybe I would have torn something,” Tejada said. “But luckily, it didn’t happen.”
Tejada’s injury was described as a patella subluxation in his left knee, and he walked on crutches a few hours after hurting it. But he said his knee has improved in the 10 weeks since he felt a pop during the morning run.
Now Tejada is back in Arkansas preseason camp, attempting to take a step forward in his development as the Razorbacks kicker.
“That puts a little halt on everybody when you’ve got a little bang-up or a knee or something,” said Arkansas defensive ends coach Kirk Botkin, who also oversees the specials teams. “I think he’s coming along. I think he’s progressing fine, and I think he will have a good or better year than he did last year.”
Tejada has struggled with his accuracy at times over the past two weeks, but part of the problem could be the result of a new holder.
Sophomore Rhett Richardson remains Arkansas’ deep snapper, but free safety Matt Harris has taken over as the holder. Botkin said the change could throw off Tejada, leading to his accuracy problems.
“I think that has a big deal to do with it. Everybody goes, ‘Well, the kicker missed it,’” Botkin said. “Well, was the hold good? Was the snap good? All that stuff goes into it, and we’ve still got a long time before we play. We’ll work all those kinks out.”
Tejada was tied for fifth in the Southeastern Conference last season with 17 field goals and a 73.9 field-goal percentage (17-for-23). But he missed two kicks of 35 and 37 yards in Arkansas’ 38-7 loss to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl, a fact that still bothers him.
“I maybe got a little too relaxed, but I’m not letting that become a factor this season,” Tejada said. “I’m going to have to focus for every time I hit the field and do the best I can when I’m out there.”
And as for the knee, Tejada insists that’s not as much of a problem as it was earlier this summer.
“It still bothers me a little bit every now and again,” Tejada said. “But I’m working to get better, and sometimes you just have to go through some pain and get out here and get the job done.”
Special Teams At A Glance
Sure Thing: Senior Jeremy Davis was solid in his first full season as Arkansas’ punter in 2007, averaging 40.0 yards per punt and having 19 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line. Arkansas’ coaches wouldn’t mind another consistent year from Davis.
Big Question: The Razorbacks have gone through a number of punt returners over the past few years, and there is no clearcut return guy just yet. Running back Michael Smith and several of the highly touted freshmen are vying for the job in practice, but the competition is still wide open.
Top Newcomer: Felix Jones was a big-time scoring threat on kickoff returns, but he’s now in the NFL. However, freshman safety Elton Ford has shown that he might be able to pick up the slack. He’s been working in practice at returning kickoffs.
Quotable: “Looking back from last year, I always felt like I need to work on my accuracy a little bit because I missed some (kicks) that I definitely should have made. Some were real crucial in the game that I should have made. I’m just going to have to work through that.” — Arkansas kicker Alex Tejada