State of the Hogs: Still Smiling

D. J. Williams and Ben Cleveland are gone, but Arkansas can win with the 2011 tight ends, too. Colton Miles-Nash has produced after making the move from defensive end.

You get the idea that anything is doable with Bobby Petrino. If someone goes down, you close ranks and move forward, winning all the way.

D. J. Williams was the Mackey Award winner last season as the nation's best tight end. He also earned the Disney Spirit Award and was a finalist for the Sullivan Award.

Williams, along with four-year letter winner Ben Cleveland, are no longer around to play flawlessly on the perimeter as blockers and option-route pass catchers in Petrino's offense.

Williams is in process of making the roster with NFL champ Green Bay.

So the question came early on media day three weeks ago. Would the Hogs miss Williams this season?

"Well, we sure miss his smile around here," Petrino said.

But will they miss him on third down? Is there a tight end to run those option routes, someone who can recognize zone or man and take the right path just as the quarterback sees it, too?

No one is saying the Hogs are as good right now at tight end as they were at the end of last season when Knile Davis cut off their blocks for over 1,300 yards. But they aren't saying they can't be, either. And if you think the coaches are surprised, you weren't listening to offensive coordinator Garrick McGee after spring drills.

Even then, McGee wasn't mourning the loss of two senior tight ends, Williams and Cleveland.

"We lost very good players, but we can replace the talent," McGee said. "It's just the mental side of it, the toughness. It's being able to go out there on the road at Mississippi State and you are behind at halftime and you are still mentally tough enough to play your best.

"You have to get out there in overtime when we have a chance to win it and Zack Hocker missed a kick. Then our offense goes out there again in a second overtime and they are mentally tough enough to put the ball into the end zone right away. That's what we have to develop. By the time we get there, we'll have it."

And that was before Colton Miles-Nash was moved from defensive end to tight end this summer. Miles-Nash played tight end as a true freshman, then moved to defensive end last season. The 6-7, 265-pound junior has been the rage of fall camp after accepting Petrino's offer to play tight end again -- if he could have No. 6 to make his long, lean body look even more athletic.

"He looks pretty good in that No. 6," McGee said this week. "I was talking about Colton today. He's really practiced well. He has a lot of confidence. He is making a lot of downfield catches and he's running that option route D. J. ran so well."

Miles-Nash looks as good in the uniform as any tight end in the SEC. He's physical, can block and he understands the position only as someone who's played both tight end and defensive end in this conference could know.

That's not to say Miles-Nash is the only threat there. Chris Gragg, 6-4 by 235, is the perfect mismatch for linebackers and safeties. He's got wideout speed and length. His hands are awesome. And he's developing as a perimeter blocker.

There is more in Austin Tate and Garrett Uekman. Both are developing nicely in fall camp and will be able to help in the jumbo packages Petrino loves in short yardage. They can play as H-backs, fullbacks and are competent receivers.

"Gragg is coming along and so are Tate and Uekman," McGee said. "They've both been here for awhile now and they understand our schemes. They all have reliable hands."

That's probably enough to make the head coach smile.

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