Cooper's new task comes with numbers challenge

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Sunday, March 15, 2020
Jon Cooper, an assistant coach with the University of Arkansas football team, speaks with members of the media Thursday, February 6, 2020, inside the Fred W. Smith Football Center on the campus in Fayetteville. Ten football assistants participated in the interview process. Check out nwaonline.com/200207Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.
Photo by David Gottschalk
Jon Cooper, an assistant coach with the University of Arkansas football team, speaks with members of the media Thursday, February 6, 2020, inside the Fred W. Smith Football Center on the campus in Fayetteville. Ten football assistants participated in the interview process. Check out nwaonline.com/200207Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.

— When Arkansas next takes the practice field at a date to be determined later, new assistant coach Jon Cooper will have a limited amount of tight ends to work with.

The Razorbacks return two scholarship tight ends in redshirt freshman Hudson Henry (6-5, 238) and Blake Kern (6-4, 256), have moved true freshman defensive end and early enrollee Blayne Toll (6-4, 240) to the position and signed Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus’ Collin Sutherland (6-5, 240).

They also have walk-ons in former Illinois State player Nathan Bax (6-4, 240) and Elkins’ Johnson Bowman (6-4, 240) already in the program while Bentonville West’s Jonas Higson (6-2, 220) has agreed to be a preferred walk-on next season.

All of those players have combined for just 3 catches for 15 yards, all by Henry, although Kern has seen over 100 snaps in his career and is considered a solid blocker.

“It really doesn’t bother me right now because I am excited about the ones I have,” Cooper said of his lack of numbers. “They are great workers. I have seen them in the weight room and they are hungry to be the best football players they can be.

“Obviously you would like to have 4-5 scholarship guys from a numbers standpoint and reps, but they are going to get a lot of work, and that is the best part about it. Every single one of them is going to get a bunch of reps, a bunch of film. We are going to get to coach the heck out of them and have a bunch of fun doing it.”

Henry, the brother of former Arkansas All-American and current Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry, played 52 snaps in three games last season with a 14-yard catch against LSU being the highlight.

“As a freshman, he got a chance to get on the field and get some experience that is completely invaluable,” said Cooper, who arrived from the University of Central Florida. “That’s game speed. You can say you practice at game speed, but nobody can really simulate that.

“He comes from a great family and has been well-coached and I am excited to get the chance to work with him.”

Toll was recruited as a defensive end, but did play tight end as well as quarterback for Hazen and had 14 catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns as a senior.

Arkansas signed Sutherland, who had been committed to UNLV, in the late signing period and is someone Cooper is high on.

“He is a really good football player already at 18 years old,” Cooper said. “He understands leverage, he understands pad level, he understands the demeanor of what this position really takes. He has got a prototypical SEC, NFL-type body. He is long, 6-4 1/2, probably closer to 6-5. He plays strong. You can tell in his legs, he’s got powerful legs, but he also has room to grow, too. I think his potential is really high.”

Sutherland caught 35 passes for 329 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior.

He had an earlier offer from Arkansas, but the Razorbacks had taken commitments from Allen Horace and Brandon Frazier under former coach Chad Morris.

“After the first signing period, recruiting resets and that is when it really picked up for him,” Cooper said. “He reached out to me (in early January) and told me that Arkansas was his dream school. We had a very candid conversation of just what our makeup looked like and not knowing who they had recruited beyond a couple kids.

“Those kids (Horace and Frazier) kind of had the right of first refusal which, right, wrong or indifferent, it was what is was because of the relationships that were built and the comfort level of people in the building, just knowing more about them.

“But we kind of stayed in touch a little bit over Twitter and text and he understood that he was kind of next on the list, not necessarily as a ranking, but you could only take so many and we were not going to not honor things.”

“We are going to do what we tell people and I think that is the right way to do things. I don’t think we should back out late and sit in somebody’s living room and tell them something that is not true.”

Frazier chose to sign with Auburn and Horace with Texas San-Antonio, where former Arkansas running backs coach Jeff Traylor was named head coach and former Razorbacks tight ends coach Barry Lunney, Jr. took over that position for the Roadrunners.

Sutherland’s recruiting would have likely taken over soon except for injuries, according to Cooper, a former Oklahoma offensive lineman and four-year NFL player with the Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans.

He had offers in the early period from Arkansas, Florida State, New Mexico and others.

“Collin is a special player and he had an interesting recruiting process just with a couple of injuries and the timing of those, being in his junior year, being in the summer, so camps weren’t really something where he could go get some exposure, ” Cooper said.

“I think the old staff here had offered him and got the other two commitments, and that is how recruiting works. If he would have taken the Arkansas or the Florida State offer in the early period everybody else would have been saying, ‘Let’s get him.’”

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