State of the Hogs: X Factor

It doesn't ever change. What SEC teams have at tackle -- on both sides of the ball -- decides winning and losing.

The question of the day in our state is real simple: How long is it going to take for Bret Bielema to get it done with the Arkansas football team?

First, it's good if you can define the question. What is "get it done?" Is that an SEC title? Beating Alabama or LSU? Finishing in the top 10? All of those would be getting it done in my mind and all are probably tied together, although winning an SEC title trumps the rest as highest form of getting it done and could also lead to a national crown.

Winning the latter might get you a statue on the other side of the steps from where the Frank Broyles bronze stands, unveiled the day of the LSU game last year.

What I can tell you is that Bielema gets it done when his tackles are top shelf. His system is highly tied to success in the offensive and defensive line. You can throw defensive ends along with the tackles because that's where a lot of stuff happens these days.

I still go back to an old coaching adage when I assess the chances of a team. When quarterback play is somewhat equal (and it hardly ever can be that), the team with the best set of tackles (on both sides of the ball) will win.

When I heard this adage first, it was referenced as one of General Robert Neyland's seven maxims of winning football. Not true. It was more than likely just a Neyland predictor of success. I believe he was correct.

That gets us to the 2013 Arkansas football team, the real "X Factor" in how it performs in the first year with these new coaches.

How will these tackles perform in the SEC where the defensive ends are gifted and often destined to play in the NFL? One of them may be the nation's best football player, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

The UA defensive tackles appear to be solid, even with the backups. Seniors Byran Jones and Robert Thomas are the inside starters, with DeMarcus Hodge and Darius Philon very much in the picture as backups. Both of those young ones made nice strides in the spring.

And if you want to include the defensive ends as part of the equation, it looks good at Arkansas. The Hogs may not have a Clowney, but they may have the SEC's best secret weapon, book ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers as the starters and a trio of talented backups in Deatrich Wise, JaMichael Winston and Brandon Lewis.

Offensively, the picture is not so rose colored. Senior left tackle David Hurd, a former walk-on, drew nice compliments from the head coach before spring drills and through the first two weeks. But he missed the last two weeks with an ankle injury, perhaps critical as offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and line coach Sam Pittman put in a new system.

That leads to the critical area for the 2013 season, how will the next two tackles perform. Both are green. Grady Ollison, who has bulked up to near 300 in the offseason, is penciled in at right tackle in the post-spring depth chart. Hurd's backup, and likely the next in line on either side, is Austin Beck, a rangy sophomore with a nasty attitude.

Interestingly, Ollison and Beck were both regarded as solid defensive line prospects with the right kind of wheels to play in the SEC, something that makes them perfect for playing outside on an island in the offensive front against the likes of Clowney. First step is the critical move against Clowney-like speed.

Beck was the surprise of the spring, according to Chaney. Physical and rugged were two of the words Chaney used to describe the Nowata, Okla., product. At 6-7 and around 300, he looks like an SEC tackle.

Chaney said Ollison's ability is "unlimited," but he noted that first-time tackles in the SEC have a tough time.

"Now, it won't go without growing pains," Chaney said of Ollison after the spring. "He's going to screw things up like they all do when it's their first time out there playing."

This is gong to be a strength at some point. Offensive tackles are going to prosper under Bielema and Pittman.

There are three freshmen getting summer work under Ben Herbert, the highly regarded strength and conditioning coach Bielema brought along. Dan Skipper, the truly 6-10 tackle prospect from Denver, joins Denver Kirkland and Reeve Koehler, both likely to be guards, as perhaps immediate help in the O-line depth chart.

It's my guess that more good offensive line prospects will be added to the pipeline every class. That's not an area that will ever be neglected by Bielema's recruiting efforts. It's a good thing because that's where you win games as I continue to reference General Neyland's key thoughts on tackles.

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