Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Tight ends shining for Hogs in spring
Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry makes a catch as he tries to shake Auburn defender Jake Holland during the second quarter of a Nov. 2, 2013 game at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - The Arkansas tight ends stood out in last Saturday’s initial spring scrimmage, combining to make 12 catches for 204 yards and both of the day’s touchdowns - a 67-yard catch and run by Hunter Henry and a 3-yard fade to Alex Voelzke.
Tight end production is a staple of the offensive strategy under Coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and will most likely come into play again today when the Razorbacks conduct their second scrimmage in the team’s ninth spring practice at 11:45 a.m. at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“We throw the ball to our tight ends. That’s what we do,” tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. said.
“Coach B likes mixing it up and spreading the ball around and using two- and three tight end sets, so we always have plenty of opportunities to make catches and make plays,” said sophomore Jeremy Sprinkle, who had three receptions for 73 yards last Saturday.
“This off season is going to use a ton of us,” said Henry, a freshman All-American last season. “We need a lot of us to contribute.”
Henry had four catches for 91 yards last Saturday and followed it with two outstanding one-handed grabs in Thursday’s work.
The tight end corps, which is missing Mitchell Loewen through the spring and summer because of knee surgery, added an extra pair of hands this week when quarterback AJ Derby was moved to the position.
Lunney liked the starting point for his group in the last scrimmage but said fatigue late in the 101-play workout led to a pair of false starts on Henry and Sprinkle.
“We caught the ball extremely well and made some really nice plays,” Lunney said. “Those are the things that are obvious to the naked eye. The things that aren’t so obvious are the areas we need to improve on. The little subtleties, like hat placement in our run game. Finish in the run game.”
Henry, who ranked second on the team with 28 catches for 409 yards and tied for the team lead with 4 touchdown catches, played injured most of his freshman season.
“It was a long year,” Henry said. “I got banged up a little bit. I had some muscular stuff in my legs and my knees, had some fluid and stuff in there during the year. But I didn’t want that to stop me being out there. It’s good to be back and good to be fresh.”
Henry converted a thirdand-12 pass from Brandon Allen on a mid-range crossing route last Saturday, then turned it into more than a first down by shaking off a tackler and sprinting the final 45 or so yards to the end zone.
“He couldn’t have made that play last year,” Lunney said. “Just to be honest with you, he wasn’t ever healthy enough last year to open up and run in the open field, so it was great to see him have that gear and punch it in. … We need more of that.”
The tight ends are able to separate their pass-catching exploits from their blocking and honest enough to admit they have many improvements to make.
“I’ve gotten a lot better, but I still need a lot of work in run blocking,” Sprinkle said.“Working on techniques and everything.”
Lunney said Sprinkle is a game-ready receiver.
“We’ve got to get him game-ready in the run game and the protection game,” Lunney said. “That’s a process, but there’s certainly been growth there.”
Sprinkle said he has gained about 15 pounds up to 237pounds and would like to add 10 to 15 more pounds before fall camp starts. Henry, one of the gems of Arkansas’ 2013 signing class, reported with a college-ready frame but the Little Rock native said he’s gained 5 or 6 pounds up to 253 this spring.
“I’m just trying to put on muscle and just get stronger,” Henry said.
Arkansas spring football WHAT Spring scrimmage No. 2 WHEN 11:45 a.m. today WHERE Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville
NOTEWORTHY Free admission. … Only access point is Gate 1 in the southwest corner of the stadium. … Parking is available in lots 72, 73 across Razorback Road and lot 44. … Seating on west side of stadium only.
Getting tight on the end
A glance at the Arkansas tight end corps heading into fall:
PLAYER HT/WT CLASS NOTEWORTHY
Hunter Henry 6-6, 253 So. 28 rec., 409 yards, 4 TDs in 2013Jeremy Sprinkle 6-6, 237 So. 4 rec., 68 yards as redshirt freshman
Alex Voelzke 6-6, 255 Jr. Ex-walk on getting more reps
Mitchell Loewen 6-4, 269 Jr. Hawaiian out for spring (knee)AJ Derby 6-5, 246 Sr. Made move from QB this week
Will Duncan 6-3, 233 RFr. Walk-on from Little Rock Christian
Kohl Slaughter 6-2, 231 RFr. Walk-on from Webb City, Mo.
Jack Kraus 6-5, 250 Fr. Bentonville product was lone TE signee
Sports, Pages 21 on 04/12/2014