FAYETTEVILLE — A.J. Derby’s transition to tight end continued to go smoothly Saturday.
The senior wrapped up his second week at a new position by making the play of the day, pulling in a one-handed touchdown catch from quarterback Austin Allen for a touchdown. The key catch came on fourth down during a two-minute drill with the second-team offense, capping a scoring drive against Arkansas’ first-team defense.
Derby was mobbed by teammates after the catch, while defensive players like Carroll Washington shook their head in disbelief. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said he remains impressed with how well Derby is adapting to the position.
“The transition has been about as seamless as I could imagine,” Bielema said.
Derby agreed to move from quarterback to tight end after the third week of spring practice, joining a group that includes Hunter Henry, Jeremy Sprinkle and Alex Voelzke. He caught 2 passes for 22 yards and a touchdown in his first scrimmage the position last week and also turned in another solid performance Saturday.
In fact, Bielema continued to compare Derby’s transition to Dallas Clark, who played linebacker at Iowa before being moved to tight end. Clark went on to star in the NFL, primarily with the Indianapolis Colts. Bielema said it’s “amazing” how well Derby has caught the ball in traffic in six practices at the position.
But he’s also making an impact in another important area for anyone playing the position: blocking in the run game. Bielema said the only player Derby has had trouble with is Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers, but it isn’t unusual.
“At the quarterback position he has had to get it all, so it has kind of really helped and accelerated his learning,” Bielema said of Derby’s quick growth at the position. “But I am so excited. He changes our offense literally overnight.”
2. Mitchel Out With Injury
Arkansas has lost first-team cornerback Tevin Mitchel for the rest of the spring after the senior “popped” his hamstring in last Saturday’s scrimmage.
Bielema said Mitchel — who watched the second half of Saturday’s practice from the sideline — did not practice this week and isn’t expected to return next week. But Bielema said Mitchel still enjoyed a productive spring after last year’s struggles.
“The good news is to that point he had played as good as I have ever seen him play,” Bielema said. “Off the field, everything was going in the right direction. He actually gave a little talk to our leadership group the other day. He was elected part of the Hog Council. I thought he said some really good things.
“That kid has just grown so much the last six months.”
Sophomore Jared Collins worked with the first-team defense in Mitchel’s place Saturday. Bielema said Mitchel — who has had hamstring issues in the past — should be ready for preseason camp in August.
“We’re really stressing education to him,” Bielema said. “Hydration, making sure if something is a little bit tight we talk about it because we obviously don’t want to lose him for a couple of weeks during the course of the season.”
3. Bye To Arkadie
Bielema said last Saturday defensive lineman Horace Arkadie was serving an indefinite suspension. A week later, Bielema said Arkadie is no longer with the team.
Bielema didn’t provide specifics, but said Arkadie’s departure was out of his hands.
“You take responsibility for your own actions and there’s just some things in place that I won’t be allowed to have him back on the team,” Bielema said. “He’s here in school. We’ll support him with everything we can do academically and getting all the tutors. If he wants to move on, to help him find a home beyond Arkansas.”
Arkadie, who is from Irving, Texas, played in four games during three seasons with the program. He had one tackle during his career.
“I feel terrible. It hurt a lot,” Bielema said of his conversation with Arkadie. “Going back to when Coach Partridge was here, he’s a kid who had some issues before we got here. He made some strides and the final straw was a very, very sad day for me.”
4. Extra Points
• DE Brandon Lewis will undergo knee surgery after spring practice. Bielema described the procedure as a “routine clean up.” But Bielema credited Lewis for “gutting through some pain and swelling” this spring.
• RB Korliss Marshall participated in a full week of practice after missing time this week because of an undisclosed health issue. Bielema said Marshall performed well, too, describing his Tuesday practice a “freak show.”
• Arkansas spent time last week working on preparation for early-season opponents like Auburn and Texas Tech. Bielema said the prep work was for his defense, which will be facing four up-tempo opponents in the opening month.
• WR Damon Mitchell continued to work at his new position Saturday and Bielema believes “it’s getting better for him.” However, Bielema said Mitchell still isn’t “doing cartwheels down the hallway quite yet” after being moved from quarterback.
• WR Drew Morgan was carted off the field Saturday, but returned a little later and finished the practice. Bielema said Morgan had a gash in his calf.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau