Jason Ivester

State of the Hogs: Building the O-Line

Arkansas is trying to replace three offensive line starters. When will new assistant coach Kurt Anderson have a mesh?

If you watched any of the Saturday practices, there were plenty of opportunities to see mistakes with the offensive line. There were failures in protection in all three workouts. Ends Deatrich Wise, JaMichael Winston, Karl Roesler and McTelvin Agim got loose to tag out the quarterback in the no-contact situations.

Does that mean new offensive line coach Kurt Anderson is not getting it done? Are the Hogs going to struggle with replacing Denver Kirkland, Sebastian Tretola and Mitch Smothers from last year's offensive line?

No, I think Anderson is progressing at a decent rate in putting together in SEC offensive line. But it is a process and it takes time. I've seen offensive lines go through this process in almost every spring I've ever covered and that's a bunch at a bunch of different places. It's just about being true to the process. It's clear that Anderson knows the process and so does head coach Bret Bielema.

There are bright spots as Frank Ragnow rolls over from guard to fill the center spot held by Smothers the last two years. That's going to work out fine. And, Dan Skipper is just fine at right tackle.

But there are good prospects elsewhere, they just may not look it on every play. First, Wise is going to be a handful for everyone in the SEC. He's probably an All-SEC player, as good as anyone in the league. He was that over the last half of the season when he piled up the best sack total in the year for league only games.

And, Jeremiah Ledbetter is a known commodity at the weakside tackle spot. He's a handful, too. Quick and powerful, he has the first step to make an offensive guard struggle. That's to be expected, especially during spring drills.

What's going on right now is a matter of new players -- Brian Wallace and Hjalte Froholdt at guard -- learning a new position. Wallace has never played guard. He was moved to guard early in spring after playing tackle all of his life. Froholdt has never played in the offensive line, but he's a magnificent prospect. He'll be fine and seems to get better every day.

Froholdt never makes the same mistake twice and it appears that his coaches think he's going to excel at the position. He's fine physcially. It's just a matter of learning the steps and nuances of the position. That seems to be happening.

I thought Wallace did some good things in Saturday's scrimmage. It just wasn't consistent. I think he'll be good there. He missed one week with concussion protocol and now is getting up to speed. He had played tackle all of his life until moving to guard one week into spring drills.

What I saw in Saturday's scrimmage was that the guy who was asked to block Wise or Ledbetter struggled. You have to note the opposition. When those two were out, the line looked remarkably better.

Kolton Jackson has been the first teamer at left tackle since Wallace moved to guard. He's gifted athletically and does well at times, but sometimes makes a technique mistake and gets beat.

Roesler had two nice plays against Jackson, but then got whipped on the next four as I watched the run game pick up.

I'm higher on what's happening in the O line than some. I've seen every second that's been open and all three Sarurday practices.

O-line play is sometimes tough to decipher in a practice. You see a leak one place and probably don't realize that the other four guys did their job and you don't note the progress being made.

I don't think Bielema is concerned because he's seen all of the practices and notes the progress. And he's done exactly what they are doing this year - replace some guys - throughout his career and knows where they are headed and how they are going to get there.

It's very risky to judge an O line from a spring scrimmage. Seldom do you get the right picture of what it will look like in the fall.

These guys are learning new pass sets and new positions and new terms from a new O-line coach. It is just going to look a little weird to them for a bit.

They'll progress a lot in the summer and look different in August. One thing to note, there is help coming in the next recruiting class. I like what I see with Deion Malone at right guard behind Wallace. He was a mid-term junior college signee. He's got the right tools and just learning the new concepts in this system. Paul Ramirez is another juco guy on the way this summer. High school signee Jake Heinrich is also extremely gifted, perhaps in the same class as Ragnow.

One of the moves that could take place that might solidify the line would be moving Skipper to left tackle, going with Ramirez at right tackle and moving Ragnow to guard with Zach Rogers stepping up at center. Those decisions could be made after spring practice to give the offensive line time to work out their steps and sets over the summer. Johnny Gibson also has the potential to slide into the left tackle slot, or perhaps help at guard.

Or, it may be just that these guys will mesh the way they are lined up now. I've seen lines go through issues every spring. Defensive lines should have an advantage in the spring. Certainly, the prospects with this Arkansas defensive line are very good.

There is a nasty attitude with this line. It appears that Anderson's ability to coach that trait is taking hold. The run blocking is probably ahead of the pass blocking for now, but that will change over time.

One of the good things about this offense, there are lots of play calls that are easy to protect. The bootlegs, waggles and play-action stuff in this offense will help the line. Those are situations that don't require them to hold a block for long. The Arkansas running game should provide the kind of help that makes pass blocking easier.


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