State of the Hogs: Immediate Help

There aren't gaping holes to be filled, but the Class of 2015 is going to provide immediate help for Bret Bielema's third team. It's hard not to like a group with so many solid defenders and one of the best is slated for offense. Who doesn't like a tight end like Austin Cantrell with skills to cover on special teams?

It didn't take long to figure out there were studs in the 2015 Arkansas football recruiting class. The man Robb Smith calls the Great Dane turned heads immediately in spring ball with his size, strength and agility. Hjalte Froholdt will play a lot as a true freshman. So will junior college transfer Jeremiah Ledbetter.

Smith, the second-year defensive coordinator, is delighted with the kind of help in the defensive line in Bret Bielema's third recruiting class. It's stocked full of nice defenders, perhaps as many as I can remember in a long time at Arkansas.

Both Froholdt and Ledbetter found a spot in the two deep with impressive springs. And both should be light years ahead of where they were then because of a productive summers with strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert.

I think it's going to be like Christmas morning for Smith -- along with the rest of Bielema's staff -- on Thursday when he finally gets his hands on the likes of Kendrick Jackson, Derrick Graham, Dre Greenlaw, Jamario Bell, Nate Dalton, Ryan Pulley, T. J. Smith and Willie Sykes.

Froholdt and Ledbetter were joined in the spring with Daytrieon Dean on defense last winter as mid-term arrivals and participated in spring, although Dean was rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

How many of these newcomers will help this season? The good news is that not a lot of them are needed for starting roles on a much improved Arkansas squad, but there will be some that fill in needed holes in the depth, especially at linebacker with Jackson, Graham and Greenlaw. Dalton, Pulley and Sykes could figure in with depth in the secondary and all six are perfect for cover units on special teams.

Offensively, those with the ability to help the most are probably the receivers, both wideouts and tight ends. Dominique Reed fascinates because of speed that might be edging into the high 4.2s in the 40.

There is nice help as far as depth in the offensive line with Zach Rogers, Josh Allen, Jalen Merrick and Colton Jackson. All but Jackson were here in the spring.

But the one that I love the most might be Austin Cantrell, the tight end/linebacker from Roland, Okla. Will Gragg and C.J. O'Grady have great skill at tight end, too. But Cantrell could help as an H-back, fullback and should be a delight on special teams. He loves to tackle.

Don't be surprised if Cantrell figures in the plans quickly. Gragg appears to be a sure thing, too. He did nothing to disappoint last spring. I think both will turn heads this season even with Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle ready for star roles at tight end.

As we've learned in the first two years with Bielema, there are places for tight ends to get on the field in bunches. And, they seem to be perfect for special team units.

It's special teams that I have the most questions about as camp arrives. Games are won and lost in this area. The biggest loss from Bielema's first season was clearly Zach Hocker. And, by the end of last season, punter Sam Irwin-Hill was rock solid, too.

Will redshirt freshman Cole Hedlund challenge Adam McFain at placekicker? Can freshman Blake Johnson challenge Toby Baker at punter?

I figure Jared Cornelius will handle punt returns, but what about kickoff returns? Is there a newcomer with speed to help there?

I'm excited to see who helps the most in this class. It's not a case like the last two years where they have to play, but there is so much talent in the 2015 group that some are going to make it to the field.

Finding out who is able to handle the rigors of college football and survive away from home is one of the most important challenges for coaches in the first two weeks of camp. It begins Thursday. I can't wait.

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