Jason Ivester

State of the Hogs: Two-A-Days Return?

Bret Bielema sounds like he's made a decision on two-a-days. The Arkansas coach thinks a young offensive line will need every possible repetition in August.

There are times when you look at a positive and it becomes a negative. Perhaps you learn a lesson and it helps develop the plan for the next season.

There was not any doubt that Arkansas promoted the offensive line last season. The media guide was used as a marketing tool with the five starters on the cover. It had never been done at Arkansas, something that was pretty cool at the time.

That's Bret Bielema, the marketing major. The Arkansas head coach is always looking at a way to turn a phrase, use a new tool whether or not it's social media or the national media. He's quick to speak his mind.

And, the decision to put Dan Skipper, Frank Ragnow, Mitch Smothers, Sebastian Tretola and Denver Kirkland on the cover of the media guide was and still is a good thing. But did it backfire?

I was interested to hear Bielema talk Monday on Bo Mattingly's radio show about the "hype" of the Arkansas offensive line last year.

"Last year we had a very talented offensive line," Bielema said. "But last year we believed the hype too much. We had to bring them back to earth."

There is something to that. There is also something to the decision to scale back on two-a-days, trading some of the early morning practices for walk throughs. I questioned it at the time. Even Bielema admitted, some will look back on it with criticism if the team doesn't come out of the gates fast.

And, with a 1-3 start, the Hogs did stumble at the outset of last season. The losses to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M put them behind the eight ball, but things turned after the open date midway through the season. So how much was it about not getting in every bit of work in August as possible?

Every year is different, but it's clear Bielema wants every snap possible this coming August when the offensive line has to be retooled with three new starters. There is a move in the works that could mean that not one returning starter is in the same position as last year at the five spots in the offensive line.

Bielema mentioned to me that Dan Skipper might move to right guard, with Brian Wallace taking his spot at right tackle. Wallace has been the backup at right tackle the last two seasons, two years ago as a redshirt. Bielema said Wallace is more comfortable at right tackle than he was at left tackle or right guard, the two spots he tried in the spring. Skipper has played left guard, left tackle and right tackle the last three seasons. He hasn't played right guard.

"This year, we will need every rep we can get," Bielema said of August practices. "We are still dabbling with who are our best five players."

Bielema has replaced starters in the offensive line before and thinks there is solid talent available at Arkansas now. He points to his successes at building offensive lines at both Wisconsin and Arkansas over the past 10 seasons as proof that he can do it again.

There's some advice for fans concerned about what they may have seen in the spring game as far as the offensive line. He said there's a simple solution for fans.

"Say a prayer and sleep well," he said, "and things will work out."

And, the bottom line, Bielema will make sure the new offensive line gets all the work it can next season. And, those guys will probably not be on the cover of the media guide.


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