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Hogs' Williams looks to grow in tight end role

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

A roll call of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country would include Arkansas' D.J. Williams right up near the very top.

His ability to get open, catch the football and gain yards after the catch makes him the kind of weapon at tight end all teams would like to have as part of their offensive package.

But therein lies the problem.

Williams, a junior, doesn't want to be just part of the Razorbacks' package next season. He wants to be an every-down player, somebody who's as effective in the running game as he is in the passing game.

Doing that, though, means he has to become a more effective blocker.

It's been his focus all offseason, as well as this spring.

"The biggest thing I've worked on is hitting the weight room and getting stronger," said Williams, a first-team All-SEC selection last season. "It's hard to be able to put on so much weight and still take care of the passing part of the game. But I've gotten stronger in the offseason so I can handle myself against the 280-pound defensive ends in the SEC."

The 6-foot-2 Williams said he's bulked up to 245 pounds after playing most of last season around 237. Even more noticeable has been his added strength.

Whereas he was bench-pressing 330 pounds a year ago, he's now up to 370 and climbing.

"It's made a huge difference," Williams said. "The extra pounds worked and so did the hard-core approach to workouts."

All the while, he's gotten even faster. Williams said he averaged a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash last year, but was clocked as fast as 4.55 this offseason.

With some of the Hogs' younger playmakers at receiver and running back expected to play larger roles next season, Williams sees the offense opening up for everyone.

He's not going to sneak up on defenses the way he did last season when he finished second in the SEC with 61 catches, which was one off the Arkansas single-season record for catches in a season. But the way he looks at it, the more teams shadow him, the more it's going to open up things for everybody else.

"The good thing about it is that we're just getting stronger at every position day by day," Williams said. "It will be hard to just focus on one player next season, not necessarily me, but anybody on the field."

Williams rotated with Andrew Davie at tight end for most of last season. Davie, who left early for the NFL draft, was about 30 pounds heavier than Williams and more suited to be on the field when the Hogs were going to run the ball.

But as Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has reminded Williams more than once since the end of last season, he can take his game and Arkansas' game to another level by becoming the total package at tight end.

"He has to be a better force for us in the running game and become a true tight end," Petrino said.

Translation: As good as Williams is at catching the ball, he has to be better at the point of attack when the Hogs want to line up and mash somebody in the running game. They also have Ben Cleveland returning at tight end, and Petrino thinks he's finally healthy.

The versatility on offense is what excites Williams the most. He said Petrino should have the tools and experience available to him next season to do what he does best -- call plays.

"It's going to be very fun to watch next year," Williams said. "Now we're able to get into the meeting rooms and go over stuff, and it doesn't sound like Chinese anymore. We're able to add more complex things and get out there on the field and execute them. Everybody sees how well they're working. Coach Petrino's a great coach. The way he can break down a defense and build up an offense is amazing."

Williams also likes what he's seen from quarterback Ryan Mallett.

"A lot of people think his main strength is how hard he can throw the ball and how far," Williams said. "But I would say it's the confidence he brings to the huddle. He calls the plays out with great confidence and steps up and knows what he's doing. We all feed off of that.

"He's stepped in and taken charge, and it's real good to have a quarterback like that."