Arkansas is Becoming Tight End U

By Matt Virnig
SEC Football, Bret Bielema
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema‘s naysayers have came out in full force this offseason in regards to the potential offensive approach he brings to the SEC dinner table.

Bielema has garnished a reputation of  having a run first attitude from his time at Wisconsin. If you ingest the numbers, Bielema’s better offenses acquitted to better numbers offensively than Bobby Petrino‘s in his hay day at Arkansas. Call it like you see it, and the Big Ten doesn’t expose teams like the SEC does with that offensive mindset. But what the media and fan don’t know about Bielema and offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney will surprise them.

Their tight ends have been excessively used in the passing game at their previous stops at Wisconsin and Tennessee.

The use of the tight end position was an important part of the Bobby Petrino “pass happy” offensive system the last four seasons at Arkansas that saw two NFL draft picks in Buffalo Bills rookie Chris Gragg and Green Bay Packers backup tight end D.J. Williams. Bielema has history of producing NFL tight ends like Lance KendricksTravis Beckum and Garrett Graham in his time in Madison as well. Nothing will change this season, as the new “run-first” offensive scheme will emphasize and feature more multiple tight end sets than under Petrino.

By Chaney installing multiple tight end formations, the Razorbacks are not just adding more blockers to their blocking scheme, they’re also adding more receiving threats down field. The new offense will consist of several tight ends playing in different packages that best fit their individual strengths.

First-year tight ends coach and former Razorback quarterback, Barry Lunney Jr.’s group will mainly consist of former walk-on redshirt sophomores Mitchell Loewen and Alex Voelzke, redshirt senior Austin Tate, freshman Hunter Henry and redshirt freshman Jeremy Sprinkle this season.

Loewen, a 6-foot-4 271-pound starter, has been impressing this spring after moving to tight end. The former walk-on has made numerous position changes from linebacker, defensive tackle, defensive end, center and fullback in his time at the U of A. Loewen is considered the most physical blocker of the group who best fits in the new smash-mouth approach. The Hawaii native has also been impressive with his receiving skills, enough so that the coaching staff rewarded him with a scholarship this offseason.

Tate, a 6-foot-6 259-pound senior, is the veteran leader of the group, who has played in 37 games with 10 starts and has 21 catches for 164 yards going into his fifth season in Fayetteville. The three sport athlete in high school will be sidelined going into the season after suffering a broken shoulder earlier this month in practice. Tate, who had offseason surgery on the same shoulder, should be able to return for the start of conference play against Texas A&M on Sep. 28.

Henry, a 6-foot-6 245 pound freshman, was one of the most prized recruits in Bielema’s first signing class in February. The son of former Arkansas lineman, Mark Henry, was a Parade All-American and was a team captain in the Under Armour Bowl while also starting the high school all-star game his senior season. The true freshman has not disappointed with his ability to stretch the defense down field. Henry should see immediate playing time in 2013 and could become one of Brandon Allen‘s top targets as a valuable receiver this season. He will have to work on his blocking ability in year one after coming from an Air Raid offense in high school at Pulaski Academy.

Voelzke, a 6-foot-6 250 pound bruiser, caught only two passes last season, one being a touchdown reception against Ole Miss after appearing in all 12 games. He will be counted on to produce early on during Tate’s absence.

Sprinkle is 6-foot-6 235-pounds and redshirted last season as a freshman after undergoing wrist surgery. The redshirt freshman is the wild-card of the group as he is the least physical and best pass-catching threat. He will be used predominately over the middle and in the red zone because of his high-flying ability to come down with the ball. Like Henry he must get stronger and more physical to be used more effectively on the field.

Bielema has emphasized that no one in the country will feature the tight end position more than he will at Arkansas.

Lookout Stanford and David Shaw.

Matt Virnig is a SEC Writer for, Follow him on Twitter @MatthewVirnig, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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