Front and Center: Ragnow Battles Smothers

True freshman Frank Ragnow made huge strides last week at the center position, taking reps with the first-team offense in Saturday's scrimmage and pushing redshirt junior Mitch Smothers for the starting job.

The battle for the Razorbacks’ starting center position got closer last week.

Just six days after head coach Bret Bielema said at Arkansas’ annual media day that senior Luke Charpentier would replace redshirt junior Mitch Smothers if he were to get injured, true freshman Frank Ragnow took reps with the first-team offense at the Razorbacks’ scrimmage Saturday.

The four-star recruit from Minnesota made a lot of progress during the week and while Smothers had a better scrimmage Saturday, Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman said the gap between the two has become smaller.

“Frank, in a week’s time, improved more than I could have imagined,” Pittman said. “If he has another jump this week like he did last week, then we’ve got a real battle there.”

During the scrimmage, there were a couple of bobbled snaps when Ragnow played with the first-team offense and quarterback Brandon Allen, but Pittman isn’t too concerned about that.

“That’s really my fault,” Pittman said. “I need to get (Ragnow and Allen) more reps in pre-practice and that’s what we did today.”

The first-team reps are also intended to give the coaching staff and idea of how Ragnow would perform if Smothers got injured. Pittman said the experience would only add to his arsenal of physical attributes.

“He’s very athletic, very strong and he’s a really good pass protector,” Pittman said. “When he fits on to you, he moves you. I don’t care who it is, he moves you.”

Smothers said he was impressed with how fast Ragnow is learning, but for now, the redshirt junior is expected to start against No. 5 Auburn on Aug. 30. It will be the third time Smothers has started a season opener in an Arkansas uniform.

The Springdale native started the first four games of the 2011 season, becoming the first true freshman in UA history to start on the offensive line in a season opener. He also started the first four games last season.

In both stints, he started as an offensive guard. This time, as a center, Smothers hopes he can hold on to the position for more than only four games.

Smothers said that he learned from Travis Swanson, a third-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions, that the daily game preparation leading up to Saturdays is vital.

“One thing I noticed about Travis is that he came every day and was always the same,” Smothers said in an interview with Razorback Sports Network. “He never had a lag day.”

The coaching staff still has 12 days until the Auburn game and Pittman believes both players will push each other during that time.

“Right now, Mitch is the one,” Pittman said. “I expect Mitch to hold him off and I expect Ragnow to beat him out.”

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