With three starters out the door, Arkansas offensive line is under reconstruction and it has a new architect.
New offensive line coach Kurt Anderson likes what he has to work with, but he is certainly glad it is just spring practice and the season doesn’t start on Tuesday.
“My expectation for them is very, very high,” Anderson said. “ But their expectations for themselves have to be just as high - if not higher - than my expectations. I can’t go out there and play for them.
“They need to get the scout teamness out of them and understand that they are fighting for the opportunity to play for a great University, a great team in the SEC West and there is nobody in this conference and there is nobody in this country that is going to feel sorry for them for making a mistake when they get tired.
“So I am going to stay on them and I am going to keep pushing them, but they have got to push themselves, too, and be intrinsically motivated.”
The first-team line during Monday’s practice was redshirt sophomore left tackle Brian Wallace (6-6, 326), sophomore left guard Hjalte Froholdt (6-4, 309), junior center Frank Ragnow (6-5, 314), rotating right guards in redshirt sophomore Johnny Gibson (6-4, 343) and sophomore Zach Rogers (6-1, 303) and right tackle Dan Skipper (6-10, 326).
All of those guys are working to learn new technique and new terminology with former offensive line coach Sam Pittman now at Georgia and Anderson coming in from the NFL’s Buffalo Bills to take over.
“It is continuing to progress,” Anderson said. “It is new terminology and new technique so for a lot of guys it is all relatively new. Some of it is just correlating what they have done in the past to what my verbiage is and technique.
“But the guys that have got their nose in the playbook and come get help, they are not having any difficulties transitioning. But you are not going to sit there and just learn through osmosis. You are going to have to go through really study and ask questions.
“I can’t help you if you can’t help me help you. You have got to tell me what’s wrong and what the issues are.”
Denmark native Froholdt is making the biggest transition as he has gone from playing on the defensive line as a true freshman to moving over to the other side of the ball.
“He has got some typical growing pains of a guy that hasn’t played the position in terms of reps,” Anderson said. “But he shows flashes of things that are really, really encouraging. Some things come very, very natural of him.
“I am really kind of happy with his progress and where he is at. He obviously has got to keep coming and (get) the little nuances, the little things… Look I am giving all these guys the grace to fail so that they can learn from their mistakes.
“Where it gets frustrating with some guys is they make the same mistake over again. We have got to learn from our mistakes. The last two practices, the last three practices really, there is a lot of good on that tape and a lot that gets a little frustrating because it is repeat offenders of the same mistake.
“We have got to learn from it. I have got to be better obviously and they have got to take the coaching a little bit.”
Anderson made it clear that overall he is pleased with Froholdt.
"I will take as many Hjaltes as I can,” Anderson said. “He is…doing a great job. There is no doubt that he belongs with that first group and he is going to only get better.
“When we put on the tape of practice 14 and compare it to day three - the first day of pads - he is going to be shocked at the type of growth that he has had. So he has just got to stay the course and keep going and keep working hard.
“I love coaching him. He is a coachable guy. He is one of the guys that doesn’t make similar mistakes. If he makes a mistake, he learns from it and he moves on.”
Ragnow is making the move this spring from starting guard to the likely starting center this fall and has dubbed himself the fat point guard in the middle of the line.
“He is the point forward right? Like Magic Johnson bringing the ball down the court,” Anderson said. “He is really a forward, but he is at the point.
“He is doing a great job. I am really happy with his communication and I love the way that he works. He takes coaching very very well. He is constantly in my office getting extra help in my office hours. I am very pleased with Frank and where he is at.
“I wish I had 15 Franks. He is a gym rat and I love the way he works and I love the way he leads. He still makes some mistakes of someone who has not had a ton of reps playing center, but at the same time he is one of those guys that learns from his mistakes and moves forward.
“I am very happy with where Frank is at.”
This appears the season that Wallace, the former U.S. Army All-American offensive lineman who chose Arkansas over Alabama among others, is poised to see his first significant playing time.
He is shifting from right tackle to left tackle this spring.
“It is a little bit different for him,” Anderson said. “I think he has felt a little more comfortable at the right side, but slowly but slowly he is starting to do some good things.
“He just has to keep pushing forward. He has got unbelievable strength, he has got some natural athleticism and some short-range stuff in short space and short movement.
“…He has all the ability in the world, but sometimes with young guys like that, ones who haven’t had a lot of playing experience - like a lot of our young guys that haven’t had a lot of experience - they make one mistake and they let it snowball into another mistake. We have got to be able to put that play behind us and that’s life, but it’s also football and you have got to move on because you can let one thing roll into another.
“So as soon as you get back to the huddle you have got to get back to refocus and put your concentration on what is coming out of the quarterbacks mouth, make your calls and then go out there and perform.
“Then we will coach the mistake off of the tape. But we can’t let one mistake lead into another mistake or bad things happen. That is how fumbles happen, that is how quarterbacks get hit and running backs get hit and it is our job to protect those guys.”
Jalen Merrick (6-4, 329) is another offensive lineman who is trying to be in the mix at guard.
“He looks the part and I like him in the classroom,” Anderson said of Merrick. “A lot of these guys, sometimes when you get the transition from being the scout team guy to the guy that is thrust into a role to get snaps and take snaps and you get a lot of reps, it takes some time to get that scout team player out of yourself where you are just there to service the other side.
“What comes along with that is the hanging the head, the body language and the feeling sorry for yourself type of deal. The reality is there is not time for that. You either get better or you get worse. There is no staying the same.”