Henry Makes Goals Clear

Arkansas sophomore tight end Hunter Henry wants to take his game to the highest level. With a healthy lower unit, Henry is ready to do just that after a productive spring. He's ready to be the anchor at the point of attack in a deep group of tight ends. Jim Chaney provides player assessments at the end of the feature.

Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry sat down with position coach Barry Lunney Jr. after spring practice and made his intentions very clear.

He had an eye-opening experience with the Razorbacks as a true freshman. Henry did as well as possible, too, despite being hobbled by some nagging injuries. So with his sophomore season rapidly approaching, Henry saw no reason why he shouldn't be the go-to receiver in Arkansas' passing offense.

"I want to be that guy for this offense," Henry said. "That was one of my goals when I had a meeting with Coach Lunney. I told him this summer I want to continue to improve to be that guy for this offense. That's a goal of mine. I think I can do it."

Arkansas, which has placed an off-season emphasis on improving its passing offense after being among the SEC's worst groups in 2013, will give Henry every opportunity to prove he's deserving of the role. The Little Rock native is Arkansas' leading returning receiver after catching 28 passes for 409 yards and four touchdowns last season. But he wants to produce more in 2014 for an offense that will need the tight ends to play a vital role in the passing game's success.

Henry's spring was an indication of what he's capable of accomplishing. Lunney Jr. highlighted the potential during one scrimmage play in particular, when Henry ran a crossing route and pulled in a third-down pass from quarterback Brandon Allen.

He picked up enough yards for a first down. But Henry turned in much more than that, shaking a tackle and outrunning defenders to the end zone for a 67-yard score.

Lunney Jr. said the play stood out because it was one Henry wasn't capable of making last season after being limited because of a nagging knee injury.

"He wasn't ever healthy enough last year to open up and run in the open field," Lunney Jr. said. "So it was great to see him have that gear to punch it in."

The Little Rock native didn't want to make excuses. Instead, he said the nagging injury issues served as fuel to be more prepared. The past several months have been vital in helping him get ready for the grind of another 12-game season.

Henry feels healthy, bigger and ready for a starring role now.

"I got banged up a little, just some muscular things and some fluid in my knees," Henry said. "Last year, I didn't really want that stuff to stop me from being on the field, so I was doing a lot of stuff just to get ready to be out on the field. It was a long grind for me during the season, but I worked really hard throughout the offseason just to get bulkier, get faster, get ready for this.

"I know what's coming up. I'm more experienced."

Henry's instant impact as a freshman was certainly no surprise.

He was a coveted prospect who chose to stay in state and be a member of Bielema's first signing class despite an offer to play at Alabama. Henry played in every game and finished three catches behind senior Javontee Herndon, who had 31 receptions.

So his freshman season certainly wasn't a disappointment. But Lunney Jr. said the Razorbacks knew Henry was capable of much more.

"They never really saw his full threshold," Lunney Jr. said. "I'm just telling you, he limped and struggled through practices quite a bit. Really, we needed to play him. I think he fought through it and I think it says a lot about how tough he is. He just didn't feel good. You could just tell his lower body wouldn't allow him to open up."

Henry's spring is a good indication he's over the injury issues.

In fact, Lunney Jr. said Henry is quicker and has shown more burst. It has helped the tight end become a primary target whether he is in a three-point stance at the line of scrimmage, in the Arkansas backfield, or lining up out wide.

Henry said he's enjoying the workload after being limited throughout 2013.

"It's fun running around," Henry said. "Just being out there and being able to make plays, run. I mean, I was out there and was still doing my best out there last year. And it felt like I had a great year. But being healthy, being fully healthy, and just being able to run around, to just develop as a big target for this offense is fun."

Henry is the leader of a group that showed plenty of play-making ability last spring.

Jeremy Sprinkle has gained weight and improved after catching four passes for 68 yards as a redshirt freshman. Former quarterback A.J. Derby has settled in, too, after a mid-spring move and should be a viable threat in the passing offense as he adjusts to the position. Arkansas also has Alex Voelzke returning to help with depth.

"I think Barry has done a wonderful job with them," Chaney said. "They're good kids. They're working hard. There's competition in the room. We all know competition brings out the best in all of them. … Those kids have done a great job."

Bielema said the improvement means Henry should have more help.

Not only will it drive him to maintain his spot as Arkansas' top tight end, it should help him get more opportunities after being the focus of defenses at times in 2013.

"When you go to sets and formations that have two tight ends on the field, it's a tough matchup issue for defenses," Bielema said. "Of all the great tight ends I've been around, and good offense, it's been when we've had more than one tight end that can play the position with any type of speed, with any type of vertical threat in the passing game, and those things make everybody a little bit better."

The good news: Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen agreed with Lunney in saying the Razorbacks were only scratching the surface of what they can do to showcase Henry's talents last season. So Henry will get more opportunities to make an impact in the passing game as a sophomore and Allen will be looking for him as well.

"I think having an amazing freshman year is only helping his confidence," Allen said. "Obviously, he has the talent to play in this league and he's only going to get better and better. It's exciting just to see where he's going to be. We saw a lot of great things out of him and he's only gotten smarter and better."

Henry said he weighed between 250 and 255 pounds in the spring after an offseason in the weight room with strength coach Ben Herbert.

He played at approximately 248 pounds last season, but concentrated on adding more muscle mass to play the position. It's no surprise it already is paying off. Henry was asked where his biggest area of improvement came in the spring and it had nothing to do with running routes or catching passes.

"I played Y, the point of attack throughout the whole spring," Henry said. "And I think my point of attack blocking improved a lot. I played a lot of the off tight end last year. Going to the second level is usually where I went. I still blocked defensive ends, but it wasn't always the best.

"But I think this spring I got to do that every snap. I think I improved a lot on my footwork and point of attack blocking with the big defensive ends and defensive linemen."

Henry also spent time in the film room during the winter trying to get a better feel for defenses, blitzes and coverages. He said it's helping on the field this spring.

"I'm confident knowing what I'm going to do so I'm able to play faster," Henry said.

Of course, there's nothing like being healthy enough to do it as well.

It's a big reason whey Henry believes he can be Arkansas' go-to receiver next season as it works to become a much improved passing attack.

"Going throughout the spring I felt explosive, fast, strong, throughout the whole spring," Henry said. "I felt like I got stronger throughout the spring. So coming out of it healthy and going into the summer, I'm excited."

Tight End Assessments from OC Jim Chaney:

HUNTER HENRY (6-6, 251, Soph.) — Solid spring, needs to continue to develop, which I think he will. Good football player. Got back to running like he's capable of and made a lot of plays for us. Expect a lot of good solid play from him. I want him to be exceptional and I have to temper that with the fact he's been here one year. I have real high expectations for Hunter. I am not to back off. I'm going to keep my foot way up in him. We need him to be an exceptional all-conference player and I think he will be.

JEREMY SPRINKLE (6-6, 237, Soph.) — Put on some added weight which he needed to do. We knew what he could do vertically, he can run fast. He needs to continue to develop quickness off the line of scrimmage. We are pleased with how he caught it. He has very good hands. We can trust him to put him on the field. He seems to be doing a lot of things. You get back to that competition in that room. It brings out the best in everybody and that's what we'll see that brings Jeremy along. He doesn't have mass, but he's a willing blocker.

ALEX VOELZKE (6-6, 255, Jr.) — We have high hopes for him because he's got a great body. Of all the players on offense, he might have had the most spring of anyone. We played him at two different positions. He understood them. We are understanding Voelzke better and he understands Voelzke better. He was always a very reckless player. He needs to continue to do that. If we can temper that a little bit and turn that reckless into a little more controlled reckless, we think he'll help us. I'm excited about him getting on the field last fall. He did a really good job of improving the areas that needed it. I'm really happy with Alex.

A. J. DERBY (6-5, 246, Sr.) — He's a heckuva addition. He was unselfish and moved to that spot. He gave us a lot of freedom. He's a very talented tight end. I don't know where it's going to go, but I'm tickled to death to have him there. He's a good football player and will be very good for us in the fall. He can do everything. He's more talented than every player in that tight end room. He's faster than Hunter. He's got as good of hands as any of them. He's got a really side upside. We'll see how he plays because he's never done it. I'm optimistic because I think he's a great player. Barry Lunney told me that he wish he could take all of his tight ends after they've played quarterback for three years. You call it, he knows it already. Even in the quarterback room, he was as bright as any of them. He's got incredible football IQ and it shows up a lot.

WILL DUNCAN (6-3, 233, Fr.) — He did a nice job for us as a walk-on. He is a great program guy. He's an effort guy and a heckuva team guy.

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