Tuesday Grid Update, 4/22

Mitch Smothers is ahead in the battle at center, but the race may be just getting started. The Hogs finished their 13th practice of the spring in their final week before the Red-White game.

Mitch Smothers is making a move at center, but that's a spot that probably won't be settled until fall camp when reinforcements arrive in the offensive line.

There's been some progress at center since Smothers switched to center after spring break. He's steadily solidified his position against what's on campus now. And, Luke Charpentier, who opened spring at center, has moved ahead at the left guard spot that Smothers vacated.

"Those are our best two right now at those two spots," line coach Sam Pittman said. "Mitch is our best center and Luke is our best left guard."

Smothers, the fourth-year junior from Springdale, started his UA career at left tackle and has slowly moved inside. He said he's enjoyed the chance to play center.

"I really like center," Smothers said. "I think this is my best position. Maybe it fits my size."

Smothers says he stands 6-foot-3 and that may be around the right size to snap, according to Pittman.

"I think for his stature, center is a good spot for him," Pittman said. "I think we've found the right position for him."

Pittman said he sees steady progress at Smothers in the ability to read fronts.

"I saw him recognize a couple of new things today," Pittman said. "And our center exchange has been good the last two weeks. We haven't had a ball on the ground in four practices over the last two weeks. We've cleaned that up."

That was among the highlights of what offensive coordinator Jim Chaney called "a good spirited practice." There weren't a lot of mistakes, but the one that was obvious created a stir. Tight end Hunter Henry jumped offside about halfway through a team segment. Head coach Bret Bielema had the entire team run a lap, then had them take a knee around him for a challenging talk.

"We had a false start and we have to get rid of those," Chaney said. "It's something that hurts the whole organization so we had (to run). You have to get rid of them. We'd been pretty good with that, but then we had one."

Chaney said he liked what he's seen of the overall offense after moving Smothers to center.

"It has seemed to help us function a little better," Chaney said. "He's done well."

Quarterback Brandon Allen said it's helped the Hogs at two positions.

"Mitch has done well at center and I think Luke has done well at left guard," Allen said. "So we are doing well at both those spots.

"You see that we are getting more confidence at center with Mitch. I think Mitch is getting confident there. He's seeing more things. He is able to identify the fronts and make the calls."

Allen said he feels comfortable with the progress being made on offense and he agreed that there had been a big focus on the passing game this spring.

"We have worked a little more on the passing game this spring," Allen said. "We knew that's where we needed improvement. Our mindset is still pound it and we know we can do that.

"But it was a matter of building repetitions in the passing game. We wanted to be cleaner in the overall passing game."

Chaney said some of the progress in the passing game is as simple as a better catch ratio from the wide receivers, with fewer drops.

"We have caught it well this spring," Chaney said. "That's progress in that area, with fewer drops. And, we are pleased with the blocking of our wide receivers. We've worked on that area every day this spring and we have improved and that's important with what we do. The technique side of blocking is better.

"But just to catch it better, we are better. We chart every pass. We chart catchable balls. And so far we are around 90 percent. That's a good high score. In the NFL, they like to get to 1 out of 10 or 1 of 11 as far as catchable balls. We are right there."

Chaney continues to praise tight end AJ Derby for making progress after moving from quarterback three weeks ago.

"AJ has the frame, he has the physical stature," Chaney said. "He run likes the wind and he understands football. He can catch it. I think I just described a tight end."

Wide receiver Keon Hatcher had a good day in all aspects. He was Allen's favorite target in two scoring drives in the two-minute drill. Hatcher also made a big play in red zone offense, as did Derby.

Running backs Korliss Marshall, Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams sparkled throughout the day, with big plays rotating with the first offense.

One of the highlights for the defense came in inside run when linebacker Tiquention Coleman exploded for two lost yardage plays against the backups. One of the hits was a smack deep in the backfield against Kody Walker, something that eventually created fireworks between Walker and Coleman.

"Yeah, TQ, he's got that short man syndrome," Williams said. "He is like that. He will battle you. Off the field, he's one of the nicest guys you will meet. But he's got a real aggressive mentality on the field."

Dan Skipper was quick to come to Walker's rescue in the brief skirmish. It was more of a standoff than in some earlier situations similar in the spring.

Pittman seemed to like the way things are shaping up in the offensive line and the aggressive mentality in inside run.

"I think we are making progress," said Pittman, who noted the top priority still remains to "secure that center spot."

He said there would be several newcomers get shots at center in fall camp, including junior college transfer Sebastian Tretola, along with Frank Ragnow.

"Tretola is a JC guy and you don't sign those guys unless you think they can help you," Pittman said. "We signed him to be a left guard, but we want to see him snap when he gets here. Ragnow will get a look there, too.

"I'm not saying one of the guys at center there now won't win the job. But they are going to be challenged."

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