FAYETTEVILLE — Andrew Davie is the most physically intimidating of the three tight ends. D.J. Williams has the best hands of the bunch.
And Ben Cleveland might be the most intriguing because of how long it has taken him to get back on the practice field.
Simply put, Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has plenty of options at tight end. He can go with the bigger Davie, the faster Williams or a combination of the two in Cleveland.
“The Petrinos will figure it out,” Davie said. “Their offense is as good as anywhere, so they know how to get mismatches and then get guys they want open and get guys they want the ball.”
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has indicated that he wants his tight ends to be more involved in the passing game. And with Davie, Williams and a healthy Cleveland, the Razorbacks could get creative in how they use all three this season.
“We have a lot of two tight (end) personnel in our offense, and there will be a lot of times (when) you’ll see one of them in motion or lining up in different places,” Paul Petrino said. “Definitely, that will be a personnel group that we’ll use a lot.”
Arkansas will have only two of its top tight ends available this morning when the team holds its first scrimmage of the fall. Williams will be held out because of a minor injury, though he’s expected back on Monday.
And if Cleveland can stay healthy, it will be interesting to see how Petrino manages to get all three of his tight ends on the field in 2008.
“We really don’t talk much about that; we let the coaches take care of it,” Williams said. “But in practice, you can tell they have different packages for certain types of thing. So it will be interesting to see how that works out in the season.”
While Davie and Williams combined for 19 catches for 209 yards and three touchdowns last season, their primary role under former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt was to serve as additional blockers. But that will likely change with the new coaching staff.
To prepare for their increased roles in the offense, Davie and Williams went about changing their bodies drastically in the offseason. They both slimmed down, though too much in Williams’ case.
Davie is a self-described “McDonald’s guy,” but the 6-foot-5, 266-pound junior cut down on the amount of fast-food he ate in the hopes of getting faster. He changed his diet, exercised in the summer heat and got into better condition.
“Getting faster was one of the big things because last year in coach Nutt’s offense, obviously, the brunt of my work was blocking,” Davie said. “Here it’s a complete different animal, so I had to get where I could run more and have a little more endurance.”
Williams, meanwhile, took a more drastic approach to slimming down. A combination of not eating his mother’s home-cooked meals and sweating in Arkansas’ intensive offseason workout program caused the sophomore to drop nearly 30 pounds.
So how did the coaches react to his new look?
“They weren’t too happy,” said Williams, who at 250 pounds has gained much of the weight back.
Meanwhile, Cleveland is glad to simply be back at practice after a pinched nerve in his neck forced him to miss all of last season and a nagging toe injury slowed him down in the spring.
The former Springdale High star continues to be bothered at times by the toe injury, and he said one good hit on his neck could knock him back “to square one.” But Cleveland has also shown signs that he’s getting back to the form he displayed as a freshman in 2006.
“When you’re in there, you’ve just got to ‘ball out,’ as you would say,” Cleveland said, “so that you can get on the field so (the coaches) can figure out a way how to pull all of us on the field.”
Tight Ends At A Glance
Sure Thing: Sophomore D.J. Williams is arguably Arkansas’ most consistent receiver, and he has shown that he can make the difficult catch. This could be a breakout year for him.
Big Question: Former Springdale High star Ben Cleveland showed promise as a freshman in 2006, but injuries have derailed his progress. It remains to be seen if he can hold up for an entire season.
Top Newcomer: While Arkansas running backs coach Tim Horton officially oversees the tight ends, the responsibility of coaching them in practice goes to first-year graduate assistant Chip Long. Bobby Petrino has confidence in Long, whom he worked with while at Louisville.
Quotable: “I certainly do. I’ve heard that comparison a couple of times today, and I don’t think that’s out of the picture at all. I think coach Petrino is going to get the ball into the right guy’s hands.” — Andrew Davie on whether Arkansas can have two dominant tight ends like Missouri in 2007.