Everyone knows that Arkansas has one of the best tight ends in both the SEC and country in junior-to-be Hunter Henry, but the Razorbacks believe the whole room is now loaded with talent.
One of those reasons is the improvement of redshirt junior-to-be Jeremy Sprinkle (6-6, 251), who is having a terrific spring according to Arkansas tight end coach Barry Lunney, Jr.
“It's the spectacular spring of Sprinkle,” Lunney, Jr., said. “Right? Something like that. He's been good. He's been really solid. I've been real pleased with him. I think we saw him grow a little bit late last year.
“It's been a process with him, like it is for all players. In the past it's kind of been, oh, maybe two steps forward, one step back type deal. But he's really progressively climbed all spring. We hadn't seen that before.
“So I think what we're seeing now is maturity. I think we're seeing academic maturity, social behavior maturity. Not that it's been bad at all. I don't want to imply that. He's just grown up. He's been in the program for four years now, and it shows. He's very comfortable with what he's doing. I'm real proud of him. He's had a nice spring.”
Sprinkle joins Henry (6-5, 250), senior-to-be Alex Voelzke (6-5, 256), Jack Kraus (6-5, 234), true freshman Will Gragg (6-4, 255) and converted wide receiver Anthony Antwine (6-4, 235) at tight end now with incoming freshman Austin Cantrell (6-4, 250) slated to join the mix this summer.
“I’m pretty confident,” Sprinkle said. “I'm still trying to get better at practice every day, but yeah, my confidence is a lot higher than last year and over the past few years.
“The past few years I've been waiting it out. Waiting for my turn. Now I'm ready. I'm trying to use everything I'm doing now for a big boost into the off-season and then into the season.”
His improvement has certainly been noticed by Arkansas starting quarterback Brandon Allen.
"He's put on a lot of weight, put on a lot of muscle," Allen said. " He's still moving as well as he can move. We all know how fast he is. He's going to be a big-time mismatch for a lot of defense."
Henry - who had 37 catches for 513 yards and two touchdowns last season - has certainly noted the emergence this spring of Sprinkle, who had eight catches for 84 yards and one touchdowns in 2014.
“He has gotten stronger,” Henry said. “And him getting stronger it helps us tremendously in the run game being able to move people, fitting on Sam linebackers, fitting on defensive ends and being able not just to stalemate them but move them actually which is awesome.
“We all know what he can do in the passing game and the vertical threat he presents which is going to be tremendous to our offense.”
Sprinkle came in at around 205 pounds and now has put on 45 pounds or so of muscle.
“It's helped a lot,” Sprinkle said. “I just feel a lot stronger controlling the defensive ends in the run game. It just feels a lot better. It hasn't slowed me down one bit.”
Lunney noted that the spring has been a mixed bag in terms of the performance of the group.
“The young guys, it's a process,” Lunney said. “It is. And there's been good and there's been bad. The good thing is they're engaged and they're willing — sorry for all the coach speak here, but that's kind of part of my job - . 110 percent, and getting better every day, and what do they say? ‘I'm just trying to help the team.’ I'm way off topic now.
“But the growth has been good. The engagement of ‘hey, I want to get better.’ This is process, and they've embraced it very well. Because of that, they've grown through spring. Now, we've still got some work to do, but it's been good.”
Gragg joined the group when he enrolled early in January.
“It has gone good for me,” Gragg said. “Getting up here and learning the playbook has been good, learning how to practice, learning how to lift weights and things like that. It has been real beneficial.”
The enormity of the playbook has been Gragg’s biggest challenge.
“When you are sitting at home, you don’t realize how big the playbook is and how many plays they actually have,” Gragg said. “I am up here getting a grasp on things.
“In high school we had like five set plays we were going to do, but Coach Enos came in and has a different swagger about him and he is moving guys around and putting people in different positions. It’s been real.”
Gragg feels like he is a solid blocker, but is certainly learning to be more of a receiver.
“I am used to it (blocking), but it has mostly been the route running that I have had to take a big step up on,” Gragg said. “Just learning the route tree, stemming my routes, keeping my head up and doing the right things."
He has been welcomed into the position by the older tight ends, who all know from experience that Arkansas sometimes puts as many as three on the field at a time.
“You’ve got Hunter, who is one of the best tight ends in the country and Jeremy – who has really stepped it up – teaching me the ropes…They have really taken me under their wings."
Gragg loves what he sees.
“I think we are real talented as a group and should be a real big part of the team this season,” Gragg said.
The Spectacular Spring Of Sprinkle
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