Cleveland Adjusting To New Position(s)

It may be hard to get a handle on just what position Ben Cleveland plays for the University of Arkansas, but he has done so quite well as a true freshman for the Razorbacks this season and clearly has a nose for the end zone.

FAYETTEVILLE — It might not have been the most advised pass in the world, with a safety already there and a corner closing fast.

But freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain didn't mind.

He'd seen his former Springdale High teammate Ben Cleveland make catches like this time and time again.

"That's what he does," Mustain said.

In four games, Cleveland's numbers aren't eye-popping — five catches for 57 yards.

But two of those catches, including the connection from Mustain to Cleveland that tied the game against Alabama and set up Jeremy Davis' game-winning extra point — went for touchdowns.

Another, against Southern California in the season opener, was initially ruled a touchdown before being overturned.

"If somebody told me the first two SEC games, he'd have two touchdowns, I would've gone, ‘Yeah, whatever,'" said offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who also coached Cleveland and Mustain at Springdale. "But you knew he has that ability."

The only thing Cleveland did wrong was the dance he did after the score.

"Ben's the type that probably didn't realize there were 75,000 there," Malzahn said. "He just focuses in on his position and he doesn't get caught up in the environment too much.

"He did that little chicken dance afterward. That's the most emotion I've seen him (show).

"I've never seen that out of him in my life."

Early on in preseason camp, Cleveland wasn't doing much dancing.

Although he was recruited as a tight end and at 6-foot-4, 250-plus pounds (he's listed at 235 but Malzahn said he's closer to 255) clearly has the frame of a tight end, Cleveland wasn't used to the position.

The roster lists Cleveland as a flanker; the depth chart says he's a tight end. But shortly before the season-opener, the coaches moved Cleveland from a true tight end spot to one Houston Nutt classified as a wide receiver.

"It's still frustrating to a point but it's getting a little better each day," Cleveland said. "I was comfortable but I just wasn't strong enough and didn't really have enough footwork and enough time to work on it because we were only here for half the summer."

At Springdale, he'd been used to playing many different places — all standing up.

"He's a competitor and he was a little confused and he got his (head) down," Malzahn said. "So we felt like he could help us now but it'd be hard for him to help us now with his head down but we knew what we were getting with a receiver standing up."

Malzahn calls Cleveland a "flex tight end," but in truth he's a little bit of everything — tight end, wide receiver, slot receiver, H-back and on and on. Twice this season, he's even lined up in a tackle-eligible spot. One resulted in a touchdown against Vanderbilt. The other resulted in the near-touchdown against USC.

On the play where he scored against the Crimson Tide, Cleveland went in motion out wide to the right, changing his route before pulling Mustain's pass down with one hand.

His versatile role takes after Peyton Hillis, who has been used in several spots offensively in the past.

"With Peyton hurt, we had to find another guy that could fill in and he's the guy that filled in," Malzahn said.

Because of his various positions, Cleveland has spent time lined up against cornerbacks, safeties, linemen and linebackers.

"Wherever I am, it doesn't matter to me," Cleveland said. "You've just got to get open and make plays. I think I can beat pretty much all of them but I like linebackers a little bit better."


Hawgs Daily Top Stories