Dudley E. Dawson is a reporter for Hawgs Illustrated. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Young tight end group has path to playing time
NWA Democrat-Gazette/JASON IVESTER Arkansas Razorbacks tight end Austin Cantrell makes a catch in the end zone Saturday against Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.
FAYETTEVILLE It’s accurate to say Arkansas’ vaunted 2015 tight end class has not lived up to its hype so far.
The trio of Austin Cantrell (6-4, 272), Cheyenne O’Grady (6-4, 251) and Will Gragg (6-4, 254) - who received a combined 83 scholarship offers while in high school - has combined for just 15 catches for 183 yards and 3 touchdowns, with Cantrell piling up most of that.
Veteran Jack Kraus (6-5, 252) knows having guys like Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle in front of the younger players has blocked their path to playing time, so he's tried to counsel them.
“Obviously that is what is going to happen when you have so many guys that can play one position,” Kraus said. “Some guys have been getting frustrated, but you just have to tell them to keep working and that their opportunity is going to come at a school like this where we play three tight ends on the field.”
Cantrell - the most lightly recruited of the three - has played the most and responded with 13 catches for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He hopes to turn into what Henry and Sprinkle were for Arkansas.
“I am just trying to do my best,” Cantrell said. “Not trying to compare myself to them, just trying to do what I can do to help the team win.”
Cantrell is bigger than when he first arrived.
“Obviously when I first got here I weighed 237 and now I am 272 so I am a little slower, but I’m OK," Cantrell said.
O’Grady, who had a 23-yard catch against Mississippi State and two catches for 40 yards and a score in the Belk Bowl, admits he is more serious and focused this year.
“I have studied my playbook when I can in my spare time instead of playing video games or hanging with my friends or doing stuff that won’t help me,” O’Grady said. “It is helping me take this next step in college.”
Arkansas will add Arizona Western College tight end Jeremy Patton (6-6, 248) and also has Jamario Bell (6-5, 252) - who came in as a defensive end in 2015 - at the position.
“Patton is obviously a stud junior college kid that was highly recruited and he will come in this summer and obviously we have big expectations for him,” Kraus said. “I haven’t gotten to know him that well yet, but we are looking forward to kind of integrating him into the tight end room and getting him to learn the offense and everything and hopefully he can also make an impact as well.”
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema has lauded Gragg, who had some 60 offers, as he attempts to make a move this spring.
“I believe that he is taking things more serious now, but he still has to improve his preparation,” Bielema said. “He’s always been bigger and stronger than the others and just needs to keep coming.”
Kraus doesn’t think Arkansas fans should worry too much about the position.
“I will tell them not to worry too much, a lot of talent, a lot of guys that they probably may not have heard of yet, that haven’t made that much of an impact yet on the field yet, but I truly believe that this year they are going to have some big impact and some players will emerge from our tight end position.”
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.