Friday, June 27, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Henry is Hogs’ steadiest


FAYETTEVILLE – Going into last season, coach Bret Bielema and his Arkansas Razorbacks staff knew Hunter Henry was their best young tight end.

Going into this August preseason, Bielema, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and tight ends coach Barry Lunney know Henry is their best tight end of any age and any phase.

“Our most consistent football player is Hunter,” Lunney said during spring drills last April. “There is no doubt. He proved it last year. He’s consistent. He’s gifted.”

Henry caught passes all over the place in high school at Pulaski Academy. And even with last year’s Hogs 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC, he caught them in college, 28 for 409 yards and four touchdowns. At 6-6, 251, Henry blocked well enough for running backs Alex Collins, the 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year, and Jonathan Williams to go with his receptions to receive honors on various freshman All-American teams and first-teamFreshmen All-SEC team and second-team All-SEC regardless of age.

Henry did it often playing hurt and three games minus fifth-year senior tight end Austin Tate. Tate was the Hogs’ most experienced tight end, but never healthy last season from a significant preseason injury on.

Though Tate moves on, this year’s numbers add up better for Henry, Bielema believes, as does Lunney.

Third-year sophomore Jeremy Sprinkle of White Hall and junior Alex Voelzke lettered last fall and improved in the spring. AJ Derby, last year’s 6-5, 246 backup quarterback, appeared a spectacular addition switched to tight end during spring drills.

Incoming freshman Jack Kraus of Bentonville is the latest scholarship tight end addition.

Their numbers add up well to Henry for several reasons, Bielema said.

More players means more competition for Henry to improve his practices, and more players means more help at keeping Henry rested during games and with various formations employing two and sometimes even more tight ends.

“I think the best thing that can happen to Hunter is the evolution of AJ Derby and Sprinkle and Voelzke, to be quite honest,” Bielema said. “I think that now Hunter goes to work every day and realizes AJ Derby can all of the sudden start taking more of my reps. Jeremy Sprinkle got better every day, Voelzke’s playing as good as he’s playing, that’s only going to make us better.”

And more versatile.

“When you go to sets and formations that have two tight ends on the field, it’s a tough matchup issue for defenses,” Bielema said. “I think about all the time, of all the great tight ends I’ve been around, and good offense, it’s been when we’ve had more than one tight end that can play the position with any type of speed, with any type of vertical threat in the passing game, and those things make everybody a little bit better.”

More health and more help had Henry hopeful going into the summer “voluntary” workouts that continue through July before preseason practice officially begins in August leading into the Aug. 30 season opener at reigning SEC champion Auburn in Auburn, Ala.

“I think I’ve gotten a lot faster, a lot more explosive just because I was healthy,” Henry said. “I think last year that kind of limited me a little bit. I wasn’t as explosive as an athlete as I could have been. I fought through a lot with my leg. But, you know, I feel as good as I have ever. I’m just really excited about it.”

Adding senior transfer offensive guard and former UNLV team captain Cameron Jefferson to an offense that full-time last spring added speedster Korliss Marshall of Osceola to the running back stable headed by Williams and Collins has Henry thinking the Ground Hogs phase of the game will run Arkansas’ way.

“Our running game is going to be great,” Henry said. “We have three great running backs, a great offensive line. We’ve got to continue to improve in our passing game, but I think we’re as close as anything.”

They weren’t close on that last fall, he admits.

“I think sometimes we have guys running one route this way and then we’re not making maybe one play,” Henry said. “We’re not catching it. We’re not making the right throw or read. We just have to all get on the same page. When we’re all on the same page, we’re hard to beat. This summer we’re going to continue to work hard and in fall camp. We’re going to be ready when Aug. 30 comes.”