UA tight ends deep, led by Cantrell
FAYETTEVILLE — Every day teachers simultaneously challenge their most gifted students while striving to bring the rest of the class closer to that apex and nurture the rest’s uniquely individual talents.
The same challenges beset coaches, too. Extremely for Bret Bielema and his University of Arkansas, Fayetteville football staff, it seems.
Prior to Monday’s Northwest Arkansas Razorback Club’s golf outing in Rogers, Bielema discussed entering Thursday’s start of preseason drills knowing the zeniths that some of his starters start above the “covey” of backups.
Offensively, senior preseason All-SEC first-team center Frank Ragnow, senior preseason thirdteam All-SEC quarterback Austin Allen, senior wide receiver Jared Cornelius, with 32 of the returning wide receivers’ 35 total receptions for 2016, sophomore running back Devwah Whaley, elevated from supporting role co- star to the star with the second major neck injury compelling running back Rawleigh Williams’ football retirement, stand well above those crowding below them, Bielema said.
At tight end, Bielema said he believes third-year sophomore Austin Cantrell does, too.
“I think at tight end you have Austin Cantrell, who’s kind of up here,” Bielema said. “And then there’s just a covey of tight ends that are all trying to jockey for that spot.”
Cantrell, 6- 3, 264 of Roland, Okla., backed up 2016 Razorbacks senior/2017 Washington Redskins draftee Jeremy Sprinkle last year but carved his own niche as a blocker (“I think he might be the best blocking tight end in the country,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos said last spring) while catching 13 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Though called above the tight end crowd, Cantrell won’t have to go it alone.
Between the multiple tight end sets including H-back plus all the special teams duties expected from a position demanding the combination of receiver skills and speed and lineman’s strength, the tight end is the most utilized position in Bielema’s offense.
So even with Cantrell starting above the crowd, opportunities can still knock for third-year sophomores Cheyenne (also known as C.J.) O’Grady and Will Gragg, true sophomore Grayson Gunter, junior Jack Kraus and nationally heralded junior college transfer Jeremy Patton.
Patton was a late arrival to the Razorbacks’ summer workouts. He had to complete his junior college academics but apparently makes up for lost time.
“He’s been really, really engaged,” Bielema said. “Also C.J. O’Grady has probably been as good as I’ve seen and Will Gragg. At tight end, too, Grayson Gunter, a guy who wasn’t there in the spring.”
Gunter has since recovered from shoulder surgery.
All bear promise but all have work to do, tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. said.
“We could sit here and go down the list of every one of them and talk about the things they can improve on,” Lunney said.
“But I think the first two or three weeks of camp will prove the guys we’re ready to go to battle with. There will be a lot of reps, a lot of opportunities for every one of them.”