Revitalized tight end group on track for Saturday

By: Jimmy Carter
Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Will Gragg, Arkansas tight end, runs after a catch in the third quarter Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017 at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
Photo by Ben Goff
Will Gragg, Arkansas tight end, runs after a catch in the third quarter Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017 at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

— Tight end is arguably Arkansas' deepest position, but that depth has thinned because of injuries recently.

Sophomore Cheyenne O'Grady bruised his tailbone in the Nov. 4 win over Coastal Carolina and didn't travel to LSU last weekend. Fellow sophomore Austin Cantrell suffered a lower-leg injury in the first half of the 33-10 loss to the Tigers and couldn't return.

But coach Bret Bielema indicated Monday both would be back for the Mississippi State game, O'Grady recovered after the rest and Cantrell recuperating after multiple X-rays came back negative.

Tuesday, the group was still trending in the right direction.

"We're beat up a little bit, but I think we're coming around," tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. said. "I think we'll be OK by Saturday. It was a little bit of a hodgepodge today, but everybody was out there for the most part getting involved.

"We anticipate, by Saturday, most of them getting in there and being able to play at their normal speed."

The absences at the position forced others to step up, namely junior Jeremy Patton and sophomore Will Gragg.

Patton has been involved most of the year but took on a more significant role in the absence of the team's top two tight ends, hauling in seven catches for 93 yards against Coastal and LSU after entering November with two receptions the first eight games.

"The running game was a little bit more of an easier transition and so the passing part of it was a little bit more of something he's had to spend more time on," Lunney Jr. said. "Really started hitting his stride in practice about a month ago, hitting his stride where we were like, OK, there you go, now he's getting it. And it just didn't show up in games really until the last few weeks.

"Hopefully that'll be something we can do these last two games, cause he's a good weapon for us. He's a good pass-catching tight end and he runs pretty well too."

Gragg was a heralded recruit who redshirted as a freshman, didn't play last year and hadn't been consistently involved this season, partially as a result of an injury, until the LSU game, only totaling two catches before the trip to Baton Rouge, La.

But he produced three catches for 47 yards against the Tigers, turning a screen into a 33-yard gain to help set up a field goal early in the third quarter and getting open for a third-down reception later in the game.

After waiting his turn, he produced when given the opportunity.

"You had Hunter Henry came in here and started as a freshman," Gragg said. "You had Jeremy Sprinkle didn't make a play until his redshirt sophomore year, so everybody's timeline's different. So just whenever your number gets called, coach told me you can't determine when you get in the game, just how you play once you get in the game. Just make the most of your opportunities."

Moving forward with everyone healthy and Gragg earning a bigger role, Arkansas has four tight ends it can rely on, potentially five with junior Jack Kraus.

"We have bodies there," Lunney Jr. said. "We have a lot of different guys who've played in games. ... I think they've all earned the opportunity to get in there and play to their niche, to their strengths."

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