Perhaps the happiest Razorback to be back on the football field during Tuesday's first spring practice was tight end Chris Gragg.
Gragg (6-3, 237), who will be a redshirt sophomore during the upcoming season, had to miss all of last season due to a dislocated ankle (and surgery) suffered in the preseason.
He got to do a few things during the Liberty Bowl workouts in December, but Tuesday was his first true workout since the injury.
"It was great," Gragg said. "Just to be back out there with my teammates, going through practice instead of standing over at the side made me really feel like part of the team again. I am happy to be fully healthy and I want to get out there and work hard and be ready to contribute a lot this season."
Gragg, one of three wideouts from Warren that Arkansas signed in the 2008 class, actually played in 12 games and started three contests as a true freshman.
He had only one catch, but it was a big one. That was on fourth down-and-one play against Louisiana-Monroe and he hauled in a 25-yard catch that kept a key Arkansas drive alive.
"I really felt like I had momentum going into the spring," Gragg said. "I got moved to tight end and felt really good about that and was looking forward to making a lot of plays."
But the severe ankle injury came along, he was out for the season and he was leaning on his teammates and his parents Kelvin and Tenita Gragg for support.
"I was very down and disappointed but my parents and my teammates really helped me get through and I just went to work to get something out of the year."
Flash forward to this spring and Gragg is now up to 237 pounds and ready to contribute along with senior returnees D.J. Williams (6-2, 251) and Ben Cleveland.
"I really think we have one of the best tight end groups in the country," Gragg said. "I think everybody knows what D.J. can do after the catch, Ben's a great player and I think I will bring some quickness and athleticism to the field as well."
Williams likes what he has seen out of Gragg – both during last spring and in the off-season.
"He's something else," Williams said. "He is an unbelievable athlete. He can block, run 4.4 40s and I am sure we are going to put him in our offense any way we can to take advantage of him."
So does Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino, who got both Gragg and cornerback Isaac Madison back.
"It was good to see Chris out there," Petrino said. "He's big and fast and can run and catch. We've got to make sure we do a good job of putting him in situations where he can be successful early. It is great to see him back out there. You look at him and Isaac (Madison) that we lost early last year who are two real good football players."
While Williams amount of catches was reduced from 61 to 31 from his sophomore season, the tight end role is expecting to pick back up this upcoming season with the installation of the pistol formation.
"I think this is going to be a year when we take advantage of the weapons that we have and we have a lot of them at the tight end spot," Gragg said. "I think there are going to be plenty of plays made by our group and the quarterbacks will come looking for us more because of that."
It will also help that Gragg has put on 30 pounds of muscle since his arrival from high school to the UA campus.
"I am much stronger," Gragg said. "I think I bench 260 in high school and I am up to 325 now. I am squatting over 400 and just feel a lot stronger. That is what you need to be as a tight end.
"There is a different philosophy from being a wide receiver," Gragg added. "You have to not only be able to make catches, but also be able to take on SEC defensive linemen."
Gragg admits that his former Warren teammates Greg Childs and Jarius Wright and former Central Arkansas Christian star Joe Adams – all big-time wideouts for the Razorbacks now – have helped him this off-season.
"We take a lot of pride in all being part of that 2008 class and all being from 4A schools," Gragg said. "We are always competing with each other to help get the best out of the whole group."
While it was good to get back on out the practice field, it was not a stellar day for the group per Williams – who has been sporting a fro-hawk for the past month.
"We had some mental mistakes and that's the big part," Williams said. "We need to learn that in the indoor and bring it out here. We need a poor job of that today on the offensive side of the ball. The first day didn't go as expected, but now we know what to learn from."
Gragg noted that the quarterbacks – Tyler Wilson, Brandon Mitchell and Jacoby Walker - all had good days as they fill in for injured starter Ryan Mallett, who looked on with a protective boot on his broken toe.
"I think all of them did a very good job today and are all going to be very good quarterbacks," Gragg said. "I am looking forward to working with all of them this spring."
Gragg is one of those looking forward to the next 14 practices this spring.
"I know we can get better, I can get better," Gragg said. "The best part is just being out here and having the chance to do that now that I am healthy. It makes me happy to get back to work."
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