Seemingly a man of the people in Fayetteville, Arkansas tight end Trey Knox may have finally settled in.
Those who have followed his journey up to this point know the troubles he has fought. Running through coaching changes, injuries, roster turnover, and doubt, he still encapsulated plenty of support.
His performances at the ladies’ football clinics may have been an added booster of support. Those outside of the Arkansas fan base even found themselves in support of the former receiver. No matter how disappointing his outlook seemed, he remained on the roster. With his performance against Cincinnati in Week 1, it might just be his time to shine once more.
Out of high school, his name was known quite well. A native of Murfreesboro, Tenn., Knox was a 247Sports Composite four-star athlete. At the time, he was listed as a top-35 wideout and among the top 250 overall prospects nationally.
Offers rained down from the likes of Ohio State and practically the entire SEC. Luckily for Arkansas, former head coach Chad Morris was solid in one department – recruiting.
Factoring in with a stacked wide receivers class on paper, Knox found his way into a starting role in 2019. The lack of proven commodities outside of the plethora of freshmen proved beneficial for his future.
Still listed as 6-foot-5 coming in, his lengthy frame proved capable lined up out wide. While that season had more than enough reasons to forget, Knox’s contributions were not among them. He hauled in 28 catches for 385 total yards and three touchdowns from a less than ideal quarterback room. Soon after, things became bleak for Knox.
Depth Chart Tumble
The lacking context in the situation is vital for understanding. 299 yards of his total in 2019 came over the first four games. A hip injury caused turmoil for the freshman, stunting what seemed to be an impeccable start.
While Knox was deemed healthy when the 2020 season rolled around, he struggled to find the field. With how much confidence was behind his name during fall camp that season, it was quite a surprise.
Aspects such as yards after the catch and beating the press were areas where offensive coordinator Kendal Briles demanded improvement. While players spoke out about his desire to improve, it never truly manifested on the field.
Wrapping up 2020, Knox gathered just seven total receptions. With the transfer portal era striking a match during that time period, his status began to smoke. While Knox never spoke about leaving the program, many media outlets felt it was destined to occur.
Some thought it was for the betterment of his career. Then along came an opportunity.
The Pittman Effect
Combined with his passion for Arkansas and head coach Sam Pittman’s love, Knox was encouraged to stay aboard the ship. With lacking production from the tight end position in 2020, there was a need.
The best part is that Knox desired to play the position if it meant contributing. Options in the transfer portal or in recruiting were certainly available, but the Arkansas staff chose to stick with what it already had. Alongside a new tight ends coach, Knox was put to work.
Never breaking 215 pounds over his first two seasons at Arkansas, it was time for Knox to deviate. The process of packing on muscle wasn’t rushed, but the time available was certainly not endless. Senior tight end Blake Kern could only hold down the sole duties at the position for so long.
Maybe it was a blessing that Kern was more of a blocking body. That aspect was the biggest need of improvement along Knox’s game, but one aspect wasn’t. His ability to catch the football remained consistent. Working his way onto the field, he began to subtly settle in.
Used in the Right Manor
Not revered for his blocking ability, Knox was given an opportunity to use what he already knew early in the transition. The best coaches always take advantage of what they have versus what they desire.
Putting any regression as a receiver behind him, Knox became a mismatch for opposing linebackers to cover. Encompassing the learning process in all of that, he hauled in 20 catches in 2021 for 141 receiving yards and a touchdown.
In terms of his build, by the end of 2021, his peak of roughly 225 pounds needed improvement during the spring and summer. He was big enough to cause problems for safeties and unsuspecting cornerbacks, but SEC linebacker physicality wasn’t on the list.
Paired with top-notch strength coach Jamil Walker, he continued to bloom. Moving up to 245 pounds over the summer gave Pittman a shimmer in his eyes. The ability to block started improving day-by-day. With both of those boxes checked and a lack of experience at the position, it was time for Knox to prove himself.
Hot Start in 2022
It had always been noted regarding Briles’ offense that tight ends aren’t heavily utilized. The statement can be both true and false in the same notion. Many of his offensive sets use at minimum, one tight end, but oftentimes, they’re not the primary target. No matter how the play calling pans out in 2022, Knox proved worthy to start.
The fist fight in Fayetteville ensured that quarterback KJ Jefferson was the man, but there was a second name to enter the picture. That name was none other than Trey Knox.
Against reigning AAC champion and 2021 College Football Playoff participant Cincinnati, Knox tallied six catches for 75 on Saturday. Highlighting his stellar afternoon against the 23rd-ranked Bearcats were two touchdowns that came in very different facets.
The first was a contested jump pass from Jefferson at the back of the end zone. Knox was essentially boxing out the ensuing defender on the way to a near one-handed grab.
On the other, Knox proved he could still motor. The checkdown option, Knox made the catch, hit the sideline and outran defenders the final 30 yards for a 32-yard score — Arkansas’ last of the day in a 31-24 victory.
Arkansas just has to stop getting in its own way and Cincinnati has no chance.
KJ and Trey Knox have now connected for two touchdowns pic.twitter.com/xUDcE5ILIB
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) September 3, 2022
An NFL Future?
From those who cover college football, Knox is receiving praise. If his production continues in the receiving department and his blocking can take another step forward, a question lingers: Could he work his way onto an NFL roster?
The biggest positive is that Knox matches the prototypical modern tight end — a bigger guy capable of blocking, but who gets his chops with yards. Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts is the perfect example of a prototype.
While getting selected in the NFL Draft may seem unlikely at this stage, finding a team isn’t. The overall tight end prospect view leaves something to be desired. Guys like Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer and Georgia’s Darnell Washington top draft boards at the position.
While the overall depth of the potential class is solid, there is a bigger drop-off in talent. For Knox, that could mean an opportunity, which was all he needed during his transition in Fayetteville.
How Does it Affect Recruiting?
Arkansas tight ends coach Dowell Loggains deserves tons of credit for his development of Knox. He has proven the ability on the recruiting trail as well. Arkansas currently has three four-star tight ends committed for 2023, including its top two commitments overall, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
If Knox continues to develop and perform consistently, things look really good for that group going forward. As the numbers work themselves out week-by-week, watch the targets to Knox. That’s a massive indicator.
Once Briles’ offense starts to overly prove tight ends as dangerous, that adds fuel to the fire. That could start this week when South Carolina comes to town.
It should be expected that the Gamecocks will keep more of an eye on Knox in the film room. That added focus could open up other aspects of the passing game.
What may hurt Knox in the end is him being THE tight end. There isn’t someone behind him — yet — that defenses will need to worry about.
Athletes such as Shamar Easter, Jaden Hamm, and Luke Hasz will hopefully reverse that. If Knox does decide to move on after this season, he could be leave a proud legacy. He could be the spark that proves Arkansas can return to the table designated for “TEU.”
Featured image courtesy of Arkansas athletics