by UATVSports’ Tyler Woessner
One of the biggest story-lines during Arkansas’ spring practice is the move of AJ Derby from quarterback to tight end. It’s been a very smooth and seamless transition so far for Derby. It’s one that’s come naturally.
At 6’5” and 246 pounds, Derby was a pretty big quarterback. The former linebacker at Iowa has always been ripe for contact. Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema says this combination of size, physicality and QB smarts gives Derby success at tight end.
“The transition has been as seamless as I can imagine,” Bielema said. “It’s amazing to me how well he catches the ball, it just absolutely blows my mind. That’s not an easy thing, to run full speed in traffic and catch it. At the quarterback position he’s had to get it all so it’s kind of really helped and accelerated his learning. He changes our offense over night.”
Quarterback is the glamour position, so it’s understandable why Derby was hesitant to leave at first. After some counseling by Bielema, Derby says he’s all-in on the move.
“I’m a really bull-headed person,” Derby said. “I always thought I could play [quarterback] at this level. I finally had enough talks that [Bielema] told me it was the best move for the team. I’m an unselfish guy. I want to be a leader on the team. I want to do whatever I can to help this team win. So at the end of the day, I think this is the best move.”
During Bielema’s time as a defensive assistant coach at the University of Iowa in the early 2000’s, he had a player who switched from linebacker to tight end. Bielema says he’s similar to Derby and you might recognize the name.
“He reminds me so much of a young man I recruited who played for me, Dallas Clark,” Bielema said. “He was a linebacker for me [at Iowa]. The kid couldn’t read a power pull for me, he couldn’t do anything. When there was a coaching transition I said ‘why don’t we try him at tight end.’ The next year he was All-Big 10, then the next year he’s an All-American and a first-round draft pick.”
Derby will look to show the fans and coaches why he deserves some playing time at tight end this upcoming season, during the Red-White Spring Game this Saturday at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.