FAYETTEVILLE – Opening the preseason first-year Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman fretted about his tight ends.
He frets no more. As his 2-3 Razorbacks prepare for Saturday night’s 6:30 battle of SEC West vs. SEC East hosting the 2-3 Tennessee Volunteers at Reynolds Razorback Stadium on the SEC Network, tight ends Hudson Henry and Blake Kern earned Pittman’s performance praise for their part in last Saturday’s 42-31 SEC West loss at Texas A&M.
Both contributed blocking towards Arkansas’ season high 222 rushing yards. Redshirt freshman Henry of Little Rock and Pulaski Academy caught 6 passes for 33 yards. He caught two during Arkansas’ first touchdown drive, one on Arkansas’ second touchdown drive and drew a pass interference call against the Aggies prolonging a drive for a field goal.
Senior Kern of Lamar caught a 14-yard Feleipe Franks to the one setting up Arkansas’ third touchdown.
“I think they’re doing a really good job,” Pittman said during his Monday press conference. “On our good tape yesterday, we actually showed Hudson. He took a couple of really nice shots from the guys at A&M and he gave the ball to the official, got up, went to his alignment, assignment and went on about his business. That’s a redshirt freshman getting tougher. He’s getting better.”
“Blake Kern I think has done a nice job as well,” Pittman said. “He caught a very important pass down to about the 1- or 2-yard line against A&M. He’s doing a better job blocking. Both of them – obviously we can improve and they know it, but they’re working awful hard. I’ve been very happy with those two guys.”
Henry and Kern have done so well that Blayne Toll, the freshman from Hazen moved from defensive end to tight end because of perceived lack of tight end depth, “isn’t getting quite as much reps as we anticipated,” Pittman said. “But he’s done a nice job on special teams.”
Asked specifically about Henry, Pittman said, “He’s maturing. He understands that he’s a weapon. He’s really perfect for our offense.”
Because of the new NCAA rule mandating Election Day off so that all athletes wishing to vote have time to do so, Pittman was asked Monday about juggling his practice schedule since this off day Tuesday normally is Arkansas’ toughest game-week practice.
Pittman said the Razorbacks didn’t get back from their flight home from College Station, Texas until 2:30 a.m. Sunday but got on the practice field Sunday night noncontact and were scheduled for fully padded practices Monday and Wednesday.
Pittman said the Razorbacks would be back to their normal Sunday off day, Monday light practice and Tuesday and Wednesday fully padded practices then tapering Thursday into their Nov. 14 game at Florida.
The Arkansas vs. Florida game Nov. 14 at the Gators’ “Swamp” in Gainesville, Fla., will kick off at 6 p.m. CST and be televised by ESPN.
Coming off injuries that sidelined senior defensive end Dorian Gerald since during the Sept. 26 season-opening loss to Georgia and linebacker Bumper Pool for the 33-21 victory Oct. 17 over Ole Miss, Gerald and Pool both started against Auburn last Saturday.
“I talk to him last (Sunday) night and he was very, very happy that he played,” Pittman said. “I’m not going to tell you that I felt like he was 100 percent ready to play. But when are you in Game 5? I’m glad that he was glad that he played. I think that it gave him some confidence.”,
What about Pool?
““Bump, I thought he flew around to the ball,” Pittman said. “We’ve got to get him a little deeper in coverages at times. We bit a little bit up on some play actions and things of that nature, but he came out of the game well. I was glad to have him back. He’s a good football player and a great kid. We need guys like that.”
Old friends Jim Chaney and Pittman coached together as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia. They stand on opposite sides today. Pittman as Arkansas’ new head coach while Chaney, returned to Tennessee, coordinates the offense and calls plays.