FAYETTEVILLE – They often don’t have either the size, strength, speed or quickness — or some or all of the above to do it — but, mentally, nobody on the football team should be better apt to adapt to a new position than a quarterback.
Quarterbacks thoroughly have to know every offensive position’s responsibilities to orchestrate the offense, and they spend every game week thoroughly analyzing the defense’s opposition and its position players’ tendencies.
So, if you move a quarterback to tight end — and that quarterback is Arkansas Razorbacks fifth-year senior AJ Derby, who has linebacker’s toughness from once playing linebacker with speed and good hands to go with 6-5, 255 size — good things are going to happen, Arkansas fourth-year starting quarterback Brandon Allen said.
They did during last Saturday’s 45-21 loss in Auburn, Ala., to currently AP fifth-ranked Auburn, the reigning SEC champion/national runner-up.
Derby caught four of Brandon Allen passes for 40 yards, including an 18-yard reception and a 17-yard touchdown. Derby’s size and even more importantly, his mind, made him easy to find, Allen said.
And prominent for Allen to look for again in Saturday’s 3 p.m. nonconference game against Nicholls State at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“He thinks like a quarterback, which is good for me,” Allen said. “He sees the coverage better than a lot of tight ends out there. He knows where to get himself open. He sees the same thing I see. So, when he’s out there, we’re on the same page, and it’s real easy. I knew AJ would be a great tight end as soon as they moved him over there.”
Derby’s catching and blocking played a considerable part in the Hogs rallying from down 21-7 to stun the 19-point favored Tigers by tying them 21-21 going into halftime.
“He was out there against one of the better defensive units in the country, getting in there mixing it up, cutting guys,” tight ends coach Barry Lunney said. “And he did some good things in the passing game.”
Coach Bret Bielema, who suggested Derby’s move last spring to offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, and Chaney both gave Derby a thumbs up.
“You look at a guy like like AJ Derby, who actually never played the tight end position in college, let alone any other level, I’m sure,” Bielema said Monday. “That was pretty big. Derb caught the ball really, really well.”
Chaney also was impressed, and like Bielema, acknowledged he expected to be.
“I think he did what we thought he’d be able to do,” Chaney said. “We are happy to have him at that position.”
Derby, who transferred from the University of Iowa to quarterback at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College because Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz moved him from quarterback to linebacker, initially was not thrilled with Bielema’s suggested tight end move last spring, but obviously has adapted well.
“I just listened to what coach thought was best for me and best for the team and went with that,” Derby said. “I felt good playing tight end (against Auburn). It didn’t feel like my first game at tight end.”
It must have felt great catching a touchdown in his tight end debut, especially snagging it in front of Auburn’s student section.
“Brandon made a good read and good throw, and I kind of went up there and caught it,” Derby said. “The Auburn student body had some choice words for me afterward, but it was good.”
And, he did find his experience throwing passes against defenses helped him to catch passes against Auburn’s defense.
“I think I saw things that I don’t know that I would have seen if I’d just been a tight end the whole time,” Derby said. “It felt good knowing everything from a quarterback standpoint. And, I felt good about blocking though I definitely have some things to work on before Saturday.”