HOGS: Updating O line, punters; notes
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas coach Chad Morris initially worked his best returning offensive player on third team to motivate him.
But for now the Razorbacks don't have Cheyenne "C.J." O'Grady … period. The senior tight end from Fayetteville injured Tuesday is set for arthroscopic knee surgery with the season opener looming Aug. 31 against Portland State.
Tight ends coach Barry Lunney is optimistic O'Grady can return by the opener from the minor surgery as is offensive line coach Dustin Fry regarding the arthroscopic knee surgery for first-team senior left guard Austin Capps.
In the meantime, as Lunney said after Thursday's practice: “It's part of football" as he prepares a room full of tight ends.
Much of Arkansas' preseason tight end attention has focused on senior University of Kansas transfer Chase Harrell's shift from receiver to tight end, and the arrival of heralded freshman Hudson Henry of Pulaski Academy.
However, if the Razorbacks played today, fourth-year junior tight end Grayson Gunter would start and play the most.
"Grayson’s had a great camp, best camp since he’s been here," Lunney said. "He’s playing with a lot of confidence and intensity. We're really very pleased with where he’s at right now."
True freshman Henry is behind where he would like to be. He's not only a rookie, but a rookie returned from missing nearly a full week of drills while in concussion protocol.
"He's missed an extended period of time, and he's rusty as you would expect," Lunney said. "And throw in the fact he hasn't gone knocked off the newness, yet. But he's going to be more than fine. You can tell that early on with his ability."
TAKING GLOVES OFF
Lunney tries to transform former receiver Harrell into a better blocker, while developing top blocking tight end, junior walk-on Blake Kern (6-4, 256) of Lamar, into a reliable receiver.
"We don't send him out there with boxing gloves on his hands," Lunney said. "He's more than capable of catching the ball. He's going to be a point-of-attack blocker, and defenses are going to know that. Because of that, he might bring good playmaking ability to us at sneaky times."
Lunney stressed all tight ends must "be efficient" in run-blocking, pass protection and receiving.
"The more guys we have efficient at all three the more guys we can play without tipping our hand," Lunney said.
He knows O'Grady (6-4, 256), with 30 catches for 400 yards last year and on the Mackey Award Watch List, has excelled at all three.
"We fully expect when he comes back, that with him having 12 games left his senior year, it’ll be his best 12 weeks," Lunney said.
Junior college transfer Myron Cunningham has drawn praise both at tackle and guard from Morris and the offensive staff, but he absorbed some post-Tuesday practice criticism from offensive line coach Dustin Fry.
Cunningham has worked successive practices at first-team left tackle while senior Colton Jackson of Conway sits out with a foot injury.
"Today I would say he took a little bit of a step back," Fry said. "I hope he hears that because he’ll hear it again in the meeting room. But overall, he's doing good. Having to go guard one day and then all of a sudden we had to go right back to tackle, he’s handling it pretty well."
Third-year sophomore Kirby Adcock of Nashville has worked first-team left guard with Capps out.
"He's had a solid camp," Fry said. "With Kirby, his thing is pad level. We’ve got to play with lower pads. He understands what to do. He understands the footwork. It’s just pad level now."
DEFENSE BUCKLES BELT
Because of turnovers Thursday, running backs coach Jeff Traylor said the defense won the belt awarded after each practice to the offense or the defense on Morris' judgment.
Sophomore cornerback Montaric "Buster" Brown, praised by Morris throughout the season, posted an impressive pass breakup during the first 20 minutes of practice.
Walk-on linebacker Anthony Travis of Fort Smith Northside appeared to have injured a shoulder during Thursday's first 20 minutes.
Special teams coordinator Lunney cites the transfer of former Vanderbilt punter Sam Loy as inspiring incumbent punter Reid Bauer whose shaky spring after a late season struggle put the punting job up for grabs.
"I really like where they are in their battle," Lunney said. "If we went to a game tomorrow, we may punt both of them.”
The Razorbacks attend Friday's Kickoff Luncheon at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers and have an closed practice, prepping for Saturday's closed scrimmage.