Arkansas' Barry Lunney has a group of tight ends that lack experience, but seem to be filled with potential.
Barry Lunney Jr. doesn't have much experience returning in his room, but he does have a talented group at tight end. Gone are Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle so now it's time for some of the younger ones to step up and take a role.
Henry was a rookie with the San Diego Chargers last year while Sprinkle is expected to be in the NFL next season as well. While it's only been two practice in shorts and helmets, the obvious question is who has looked good thus far?
"I mean all of them have done some good things," Lunney said. "It's cliche a little bit, but it's two days in. They have all done some things that you see why we recruited them. You see some things in some of them that you see why they haven't found their way on the field yet.
"But we've been pleased with them. They have all been very willing, very engaged and I am sure that will change a little bit when we put the pads on and begin installing and it becomes more physical. But so far so good."
Sophomore Austin Cantrell started five games last season. He caught 13 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He played in all 13 games. Does the experience Cantrell has at this point showing up early on compared to some others who haven't played much, if at all?
"Yeah, he has played the most football for us and done the most things and it shows," Lunney said. "He's very confident what he's doing. Far from perfect, but has a good understanding of the offense. Very physical. He's got areas of deficiencies like they all do, but very pleased with what Austin has done."
As far as Will Gragg, Cheyenne O'Grady and Jamario Bell how much buy in have they had and how much more do they need?
"I don't know that buy in has ever been, I know Coach has mentioned that, but hard to measure that unless you have been inside their head and heart," Lunney said. "On the surface, all of them do the right things. I have sensed more urgency from all of them, more maturity in all of them. Those are all good things with their natural ability. A lot of things have to line up for a guy to get out on the field for us. But their has been growth in all those guys."
Bret Bielema was asked about Bell and Gragg on Monday.
Jamario Bell was obviously a highly-recruited young man that we first had on defense," Bielema said. "I think his mentality and his physicality is better-suited to offense. If you watch him practice, he'll make some plays offensively that nobody else does. He makes catches, grabs, and then he'll do something that's childish. So I really, really pushed him to grow maturity-wise. Just physically looking at him, when he walks on the field you're like, 'That guy needs to play.' Looks only get you so far, so he's got to learn how to play.
"Then Will Gragg, I've got to give him a lot of credit. We really challenged him during the out-of-season and I think he responded favorably. He's trying to do things. He just had to do some things he never did before. He's always probably been bigger and stronger than everybody else. The area he needed to jump into was his preparation. All the things leading up to getting on the field. Then, to be quite honest, C.J. O'Grady got in at the end of the year, but really hasn't done as much as well. Those three tight ends right there, that's going to be a big thing. I didn't want to play Grayson Gunter, but he was better than those three. That's why he played, and that's the challenge I put in front of them."
At the end of last season, O'Grady got to see some action. He showed outstanding hands as Bielema and Lunney had talked about from the closed practices. He grabbed three passes for 63 yards and one touchdown. How much did that action and success late help O'Grady?
"I think it helped him immensely," Lunney said. "I think there is a natural tendency for a young guy to come in and look around say my freshman year there's Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle. Then last year Sprinkle is going to be the tight end so you may not have the same urgency you should.
"I am not saying that about C.J. but overall. I think with a clean slate and no one being the heir apparent guy I think maybe his urgency has increased."
With 4-star Jeremy Patton coming in do they look and say he's a real-deal guy?
"They read the paper probably and read Twitter," Lunney said. "They know we signed a guy that was very highly acclaimed. I think from their personal experience sheds some light on that experience. You can't always believe what you read or hear. A guy has got to prove it.
"Obviously we love the recruiting aspect of Jeremy Patton and what we feel he brings to the table. But he has got to get here and prove it too. Certainly that has got to be in the back of their mind. Not only is there competition here at our facility, but there's another guy coming in so you better seize the moment."
A junior that seems to always be overlooked by the media and fans is Jack Kraus. He injured his ankle slightly during spring break, but Lunney talked about him to this point.
"He has had a little ankle that is bothering him so he didn't do a lot today," Lunney said. "Jack is a guy a lot of people don't like to talk about. They like to talk about the other guys that were more highly recruited.
"Jack has just done everything we have asked him to do. He has been real steady. Did a nice job for us in the bowl game. He made some significant strides. Going into his redshirt junior year he is just a real nice hand to have in our offense. He knows it and very multiple positions so we're excited about where he is at."
Gunter is the other tight end. He caught one pass for 29 yards last season. He had surgery in the offseason and is limited this spring.