FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas is still searching for a tight end or two prior as the season opener against Georgia is just two week’s away on Sept. 26.
Arkansas saw four players who played tight end in 2019 use up their eligibility or transfer following the season. Cheyenne O’Grady, Hayden Johnson and Chase Harrell were all seniors and Grayson Gunter opted to grad transfer to Southern Miss.
Sam Pittman brought in Jon Cooper to coach that position. Pittman was asked what he is looking for in a tight end?
“He’s not just a physical blocker,” Toll said. “That’s part of it. But our tight end has to be able to flex out vertical and beat a safety and beat nickel on top of him. We feel we have potential speed. But he’s going to be asked to block a lot but he also has to run routes and separation. He’s got to be a very athletic guy. And he’s got to have some stamina to him because we’re going to ask him to do a lot of things.”
As one would expect losing four players from one position the group is inexperienced.
“Our tight ends are young for the most part,” Pittman said. “That doesn’t mean they can’t play but they are inexperienced. Blake Kern would be kind of the old hat in that group. And then you have Hudson Henry and Blayne Toll and Nathan Bax. Collin Sutherland is a kid that we signed this year.
“We are young at that position as a group. And right now were trying to get two on the field at the same time. Right now we’re just a little more comfortable playing 11 personnel with one tight end. But we’re trying to work for depth and trying that if we want to be a two tight end team that we can get them both on the field at the same time. So that is something we expected because of the youth of that group.”
Pittman has experimenting with an even younger player at tight end. He is looking at offensive lineman Marcus Henderson at tight end. Henderson is a true freshman.
“Yeah, he caught a couple of balls tonight. you know we’re trying to get some depth there,” Pittman said Thursday night. “Wherever he ends up on the depth chart, the bottom line is he was doing really well at tackle. I sat down with coach Cooper and Coach (Brad) Davis and said ‘Hey look now, we have tackles, several, three to four tackles in there, let’s move him over to tight end and see if we can have a physical blocker in there, more physical blockers in there. And he can catch the ball. He actually did that some in high school. So we moved him over there.
“We have to get him ready. He obviously knows the offense. Very, very easy transition for him as far as the blocking goes. Certainly the routes and things of that nature we’re going to have to do a full-fledged charge on getting him ready mentally on getting ready to run routes. And there’s no doubt in my mind — Andrew Thomas, I know it’s from left tackle to right tackle, but I know we moved Andrew Thomas two weeks before the first game and he was a freshman, moved him from left to right and he started on the national runner-up team. So it can be done. We’re trying to accelerate him as fast as we possibly can.”
Kendal Briles is Arkansas’ offensive coordinator and he talked about what he is looking for in a tight end.
“Yeah, just a well-rounded guy,” Briles said. “We’ve got to have a physical player at that position, somebody that will finish on blocks and then a guy that’s versatile enough to get out on the edge and be a real threat in the throw game. The tight end position for us offensively, they’re not told what to do all the time. A lot of times they’ve got a line to execute and so we’ve to have a guy who can think fast, react fast, line up fast and play fast. That’s kind of what we’re looking at.
“We’ve got a host of guys that are playing that position and getting a lot of reps and those guys are all progressing. I don’t think we’ve found the guy yet. The thing I do appreciate is we’ve got three or four guys that we feel decently good at putting them out on the field and knowing what we’re going to get, but just waiting on somebody to separate.”
Briles had hoped to get some separation in Arkansas’ second scrimmage on Sept. 4, but Pittman didn’t seem optimistic that happened.
“No, I don’t think so,” Pittman said. “I think we have a pretty good battle there. A lot of times you talk about a battle and I don’t want to get that misinterpreted we don’t have any good players. You have a battle and a lot of times that means you have two-three good players. But Blayne Toll is rapidly moving up the chart there. I know Hudson (Henry) caught a pass or two today.
“That group has got to have more physicality to it and they know it. I’m not telling you anything we haven’t told them. I haven’t watched the tape yet, but blocking wise I will have to look and see how they did there. I do know Hudson had a couple of catches, but I don’t know how the entire group looked. I was proud of Bax during the week because he was straining. He knows how to strain.”
Arkansas and Georgia will kickoff at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26, in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.