One of the of the biggest questions from Razorback fans about Arkansas’ preseason camp was how smoothly junior Denver Kirkland would make the move from guard to left tackle.
Left tackle is a position that most football teams try to have their best linemen at to protect the quarterbacks backside and that’s where Razorback offensive line coach Sam Pittman placed Kirkland this spring.
“He is what you want at left tackle,” Pittman said. “He is not just our best, but I think he is one of the better ones out there. We are happy to have him at left tackle. He has adjusted well and we think he can protect the quarterback over there.
“Obviously we knew he was a good run blocker, but we think he can protect the quarterback.”
Kirkland allows that it has been a big transition.
“It is a whole different world out there,” Kirkland said after Arkansas’ Tuesday practice. “You have got to be able to move in space. You have got to be able to hang with the faster guys on the outside. You are on an island. It is just like you are on a island.
“The responsibility of being a left tackle is a big responsibility. I am glad that chose me to step up to the plate and take that challenge. I like challenges.”
Kirkland didn’t have a great first scrimmage, but came back in the second one and performed much better after Pittman widened the Miami native’s stance.
“We just widened it out,” Pittman said. “He was narrow in his two point and what happened was - after his second kick - he started losing ground from the defender which makes him open his shoulders which makes him susceptible on the edge.
“So we widened his feet out so he could stay square longer and he could widen the pocket and it helped him quite a bit.”
Kirkland noticed the difference right away.
“Really it just gave me a better get off and better balance as well,” Kirkland said. …There is always room for improvement…Pass pro is something that we work on every day and we got better from scrimmage one to scrimmage two.”
Pittman noted that he had not heard concerns expressed by some that Kirkland did not have the feet to play the position.
“I haven’t heard anybody say anything about his feet, but I know they are good and I know he can play and I know he can play the spot,” Pittman said. “He is the best we have and I think he is a good player and I think that he can play left tackle in the league and I think he can play right guard in the league. I think he is a great athlete and he has got good feet and that is why we moved him over there.”
Arkansas’ practice was their first since last Saturday’s scrimmage and included a lot of prep for season-opening foe UTEP.
“We gave them a lot of looks because UTEP has a lot of looks,” Pittman said. “They run a lot of different fronts and blitz quite a bit. There was good and bad. It wasn’t too ugly, but there was good and bad.
“I think we did the right thing stretching them and showing them basically what all we think UTEP might do against us.”
Pittman notes that it is fun to prepare for the havoc he expects UTEP to bring.
“It is fun to prepare for somebody like that because you have an extra period of time and it gets you prepared for a lot of things during the season,” Pittman said.
“Now it is hectic because there is a lot of volume to what they do, but as far as getting ready for it, it is kind of fun because you can kind of relate to it as the season goes as well as what (Arkansas defensive coordinator) Robb (Smith) and them did to us on our defense.
“It is fun to get prepared because then you can kind of be that way as the season goes and rely back on the different defenses and schemes that UTEP brings.”
All of the offensive coaches brought into the interview room on Tuesday expressed some displeasure with how the workout went after two days off.
“You have those days, I think we all have those days and you don’t want to, but it’s not just that,” Pittman said. “When you go against multiple fronts and multiple schemes and multiple blitzes, you are not going to play quite as fast because you are not used to seeing what they were seeing today.
“So whether it was because they went to school or not, I don’t know if that had as big a factor on it as it was new. Everything we showed them today was new.”
Pittman is hoping this season’s offensive line can be better than last.
“That’s the plan,” Pittman said. “Obviously we want to be better than we have ever been. If we can or not, we will still have to wait and see. Certainly we have worked hard and are talented.
“We will have to see if we can play together well and see things before they happened and if we do then I think we will be a good line. If we can’t than I think we will be average or below average -it just depends on if we see things or not.”