Even before senior Austin Tate injured his shoulder during the August preseason drills to require surgery, the Arkansas Razorbacks planned to sprinkle Jeremy Sprinkle into their tight end game plan.
"There is no doubt about that," Arkansas tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. said during the August preseason while Tate was healthy and practicing along with stout sophomore letterman tight ends Mitch Loewen and Alex Voelzke, touted 5-star recruit freshman tight end Hunter Henry of Pulaski Academy, and Sprinkle, the redshirt freshman from White Hall. "During the course of this year we go into the first game I think you will find Jeremy Sprinkle on the field."
The 6-6, 233 redshirt freshman from White Hall has the height and hands to figure in situations among Arkansas tight ends otherwise all heavier and better blockers and all, save Henry, more experienced as the Hogs continue to prep for the Aug. 31 season-opener at Reynolds Razorback Stadium against Louisiana-Lafayette.
"How much and what will look like is still yet to be determined," Lunney said of where Sprinkle fits. "But we have been really pleased with his progress. He is definitely a threat in the receiving part of it. He can really run and has good hands and he is a good learner. He really knows the offense."
Under interim Coach John L. Smith's 4-8 Razorbacks last season, the mental part of football was about all Sprinkle could do, redshirting, which he likely would have done anyway to get some meat on his slender bones, upon breaking his wrist during practice.
"It was tough at first, having to get surgery, then redshirting and working with the scout team and trying to get better in the spring," Sprinkle said. "This spring I really worked and got better. Now with my wrist well and everything I look for a very good season.
It had to be tougher having three different head coaches just since he signed with the Razorbacks. Bobby Petrino, the head coach when Sprinkle signed in February, 2012, was fired in April, 2012 with Sprinkle still approaching his White Hall graduation.
Smith was brought in for the 2012 interim and not retained, and Bret Bielema hired from Wisconsin last December.
" At first I was a little iffy about it," Sprinkle said. "But then they brought in a great coach and he loves tight ends so it was still normal. He has a great history with tight ends.
Bielema's Wisconsin Big Ten champion offenses were fabled for running the ball with the tight ends key blockers on the edge. But when they threw, as Sprinkle experienced for himself during spring drills, the tight ends were a big part of the receptions.
"My strength is my receiving and my speed," Sprinkle said. "They are trying to use me any way I can to help the team. At White Hall I played receiver (45 catches for 841 yards and six touchdowns for the 5A Conference champion Bulldogs) and defensive end) so the receiving part came naturally."
The tight end blocking admittedly does not come as naturally but it's getting there as Sprinkle adds weight though he has a long way to go to match Loewen's 271 pounds or be in range of Henry (245), Voelzke (250) and Tate (259).
"I'm 233 right now," Sprinkle said. "They want me at 245. Last year when I got here as a freshman I was 205."
So there is progress said Lunney, the last coach Bielema hired.
"He is a slender guy and you would think he would be deficient in the run game as far as blocking a defensive end in the SEC," Lunney said. "But I tell you has made some progress there, some strides of improvement, and the more he continues to improve in that area the more opportunities will open up for him. His heart is into it. His mind is into it. With his abilities we are excited about his future."
If he can block well enough so defenses don't automatically play pass, he will become an asset.
Because with 6-6 sophomore receiver Mekale McKay transferred to the University of Cincinnati, Sprinkle and Henry, also 6-6, are Arkansas' tallest targets.
" Me and Hunter have the same body build," Sprinkle said. "We have a lot of formations they put us in where we we get a lot of balls. We have been practicing end of the game Hail Mary's and stuff because I am a big target."
And with a future forecast increasingly bigger.