Hogs Use Tight Ends For More Than Blocking

FAYETTEVILLE -- Not long ago, the thought of an Arkansas tight end catching two touchdown passes in a game would have sounded far-fetched.

Even to starting tight end Andrew Davie.

"If you would have asked me that two years ago if I thought it would happen, I'd probably say no," Davie said. "But just recently (the coaches) have started to throw it to the tight ends more."

As odd as it might sound, the Razorbacks (4-3, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) have made a conscious effort this season to get their tight ends involved in the passing game more than in years past.

While quarterback Casey Dick continues to look for a go-to receiver, he has shown that he has confidence in throwing to Davie and fellow tight end D.J. Williams.

That was evident last Saturday when Dick connected with Davie for a 1-yard touchdown strike at the start of the second quarter and then again early in the fourth quarter for a 14-yard touchdown pass that gave Arkansas a 37-0 lead over Ole Miss.

The Razorbacks cruised to a 44-8 victory, and Davie became the first Arkansas tight end to have two touchdown catches in a game since Jared Hicks accomplished it against the Rebels in 2004.

"I told (Davie) the day before the game, 'Hey, you know, you have a chance to have some things happen,'" Arkansas offensive coordinator David Lee said. "He said, 'I like it. I like it.' And darn it he did."

When Lee was hired as offensive coordinator in January, Davie and Williams said they knew that they would be used for more than just blocking. They'd actually get a chance to catch passes.

Lee is a fan of getting the tight end involved in the passing game. And as an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys last season, he saw it work with Jason Witten, one of the NFL's top pass-catching tight ends.

"When (Lee) came in, all he would talk about was Witten and Witten. And then I started watching Witten play, and I noticed that Witten is a big part of the Cowboys' offense," Williams said.

"So I expected (Lee) to use the tight end in the offense and he has. It's worked out good."

Even with former Springale High star Ben Cleveland forced to miss the season because of nerve damage in his neck, Lee has shown a willingness to go to the tight end on pass plays.

"If we had Ben Cleveland, we could be in three (tight ends)," Lee said.

Heading into Saturday's homecoming game against Florida International (0-7), Davie and Williams have combined to catch nine passes for 116 yards.

Davie's three touchdown catches are tied with fullback Peyton Hillis for the team lead, and Williams is averaging 20.5 yards per reception.

The tight ends have managed to get open because opposing linebackers have had to focus on stopping Arkansas running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones instead of covering an extra receiver.

"Coach Lee came from Dallas, and he used Witten quite a bit, obviously. And I think he wants to use us," Davie said. "I think for me to D.J. to Lance Thompson, I think we're all a receiving threat, some maybe more than others.

"It's just another guy you've got to cover, and it just makes it that much harder on the secondary."

Arkansas' tight ends spent much of the summer working on their route running, and they catch anywhere from 12-20 passes after every practice.

Lee referred to Davie as "probably the most consistent offensive player" the Razorbacks have. He added that Williams will be more involved in the game plan against FIU on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Dick had a simple explanation for why he's been throwing to the tight ends more this season than in the past: He has confidence that they'll make the catch.

"They've been catching the ball for us," Dick said. "They haven't had that many dropped balls."

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