FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — When Arkansas hired Chad Morris as its coach in early December, a lot of uncertainty surrounded the future of the Hogs’ tight end position.
There was no doubt Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock would feature tight ends in the offense. But how the position would be used and to what extent was totally unknown.
Morris had coached a Mackey Award winner in the past — Clemson’s Dwayne Allen in 2011. Allen had 50 catches for 598 yards 8 touchdowns that season.
But Morris also had seasons where tight ends were hardly noticeable without focusing on the action in the trenches. In 2017, SMU saw three tight ends combine for a total of 4 catches with Craddock coordinating the passing game and combining with Morris to call plays.
All of the tight ends on Arkansas’ roster joined the Hogs with the expectation of playing a major role in the offense. Former coach Bret Bielema loved the position and had his tight ends highly involved in the offense during each of his five seasons.
As the only school in the country with two Mackey Award winners — Hunter Henry (2015) and D.J. Williams (2010) — Arkansas truly has been Tight End U over the past decade. So, was that all about to change or would the new staff help to further build that reputation?
The evidence through two weeks of spring practice suggests the Razorbacks are far closer to their next Mackey Award winner than a season with tight ends combining for just 4 receptions.
Tight ends were targeted on 52 percent of pass plays during the first spring practice, according to Morris. Three tight ends — Jeremy Patton, Will Gragg and Cheyenne O’Grady — caught touchdown passes during the first spring scrimmage last Saturday.
Craddock indicated this would be the case during his introductory press conference in early January. He said after his initial assessment of the roster, tight ends stood up more than any other position.
“I told y’all I was really excited about the tight ends we have,” Craddock said following the scrimmage Saturday. “I’m still excited. You saw three of them catch touchdowns. We’ve got to continue to get better in some of our blocking schemes, but to see those guys being targeted in the red zone and to see them make plays was huge. Again, I’m really excited about what we’ve got at the position.”
How the tight ends are being used is quite different from recent years. That clearly doesn’t mean they’ll be any less involved, though.
It’ll be far less likely to see more than one on the field at a time. But Arkansas is also going to run far more plays per game in a shift to an up-tempo scheme. So, the tight end spot is likely to have at least a three-player rotation with each receiving a fair amount of snaps.
“It’s definitely going to be different, but I think the load is going to be about the same,” Patton said. “Really, our job is to be the utility guy on offense. You’ll see us at wideout, you’ll see us in the slot, you’ll see us in the backfield. So, we’re really the guy that brings everything together for this offense. But we’re going to be on the field and playing a lot.”