Cleveland Enjoys Being A Man of Many Position

FAYETTEVILLE -- Ben Cleveland isn't necessarily a tight end, even though he has the size to play the position.

He's not a fullback, either, despite the fact that he helped fill in when starter Peyton Hillis got injured toward the end of last season. And while the former Springdale High star has good hands and is listed as a flanker on Arkansas' roster, Cleveland shouldn't be considered a wide receiver.

So what is he?

Technically, Cleveland is a tight end who also lines up at fullback, H-back and wherever else Arkansas offensive coordinator David Lee asks him to play.

"It's a little bit of everything -- a little bit of tight end, a little bit of fullback but mostly tight end right now," Cleveland said.

When the Razorbacks opened spring practices late last month, one of the first things that Lee did was change Cleveland's role in the offense.

Lee wanted to take advantage of the sophomore's versatility, as well as use his size (6-foot-4, 246 pounds) to create mismatches against smaller defenders.

In essence, Lee wanted Cleveland to be Arkansas' version of Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, who Lee worked closely with during his time as the Cowboys' offensive quality control coach.

"Ben's taking to it just like a duck to water, he really has," Lee said. "He's getting the cross-action at tight end also. ... His plate is full, but for a (sophomore) he's done a phenomenal job this spring."

The change in roles didn't come as a surprise to Cleveland. In fact, he was told by Lee years before he was hired as Arkansas' offensive coordinator that Cleveland could have success in the NFL if he played a combination of tight end and H-back.

While working with former Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain before his junior season at Springdale High, Lee gave Cleveland a bit of professional advice.

"One day he said, 'You're going to make a lot of money at this H-back (position), kind of like (Indianapolis Colts tight end Dallas) Clark and Witten,'" Cleveland said.

Even before Lee was hired in mid-January, Cleveland began preparing for what he hoped would be a more significant role in Arkansas' offense. He said he put on 16 pounds in the offseason by working with Arkansas strength and conditioning coach Don Decker. And the change in Cleveland's size has been noticeable this spring.

Cleveland looks considerably thicker than he did as a freshman last season when he caught 12 passes for 103 yards, including a pair of touchdowns.

That, plus his ability to play multiple positions, could help him get on the field more in the fall.

"Ben Cleveland is a guy that can go help Peyton (at fullback), he can go help the tight ends and he's very, very valuable," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "He's had an outstanding spring, (a) tremendous attitude.

"We're putting a lot on him. I think he's learned very, very fast."

Sometimes, Cleveland lines up at tight end. Other times, he's at fullback. And then there are times when he's split out like a wide receiver to catch passes.

Cleveland said he's enjoying his new role in the offense. So far, it's given him a chance to touch the football in a variety of ways.

"There are different opportunities there," Cleveland said.

Cleveland admits he had some "thoughts" last year about possibly leaving Arkansas for another school, something former Springdale High teammates Mustain and wide receiver Damian Williams decided to do.

But when Lee was hired, Cleveland said he got excited at the possibility of having multiple roles in the offense. That intrigued him.

"That's the reason why I wanted to stay instead of not jumping on the bandwagon like everyone else," Cleveland said.

And Lee said he's thankful to have Cleveland, even if his true position is hard to define.

"I'm glad he's here, I'll tell you that," Lee said.