Aguirre Passing Spring Test

FAYETTEVILLE — Offensive lineman Michael Aguirre is one of the best examples of the offensive changes going on at Arkansas this spring.

After all, the junior jumped from little-known reserve to first-team tackle in just two practices. And his quick climb bumped last season's starter, Jose Valdez, to the second team.

But the most intriguing aspect of Aguirre's rise is that he has impressed Arkansas' coaches with a skill that wasn't nearly as critical for linemen under the old regime.

"His pass protection is where he's excelling right now," coach Bobby Petrino said Tuesday.

Arkansas linemen used to spend most of their time clearing holes for tailbacks in the Razorbacks' run-oriented offense. But the balanced attack Petrino is installing this spring requires another emphasis: Plugging those holes up on pass plays so defensive players can't get an easy path to the quarterback.

And so far, offensive line coach Mike Summers said the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Aguirre is grasping that part of the game quicker than most of his teammates. So the Razorbacks have rewarded his efforts with a first-team spot alongside Jonathan Luigs, DeMarcus Love, Mitch Petrus and Ray Dominguez.

"When you lay out a set of criteria that I want you to execute, they all have different levels of being able to grasp what that is," Summers said. "(Aguirre) has done a good job of understanding early what the movements are like. So where some other guys have struggled with those movements and then that keeps them from being successful, he has done well with that. So he's had a better chance of being successful."

Aguirre has no idea why he has picked things up so quickly, but is happy the new coaches have noticed his hard work.

The Fort Lauderdale native, who chose to play at Arkansas because it was the first school to offer him a scholarship, has practiced at four different positions in three years. He logged time as a backup tackle to former players like Zac Tubbs and Nate Garner and was a reserve guard behind Petrus in 2007.

He was second on the depth chart behind Valdez when spring practice began, but it didn't take him long to wrestle away a first-team spot from the returning starter.

"If he keeps working like that, he's going to establish himself as a good tackle and that's what we need at this position," Luigs said. "We lost two good ones with (Robert) Felton and Nate, so the holes are there. He's just got to keep fighting to fill that."

Aguirre said the best way to do so is by absorbing everything the coaching staff has been teaching the linemen this spring.

"I take what the coaches tell me seriously," Aguirre said. "It's a lot to learn. It's a lot of techniques and stuff. Through practice and reps, that's where you get it down and get better."

The next two weeks will be important too, because Aguirre isn't perfect by any means.

Arkansas recognizes his strength in pass protection, but points out his struggles as a run blocker. In fact, his shortcomings are a big reason he has been a reserve throughout his career.

"He's got to have some big strides here in the next week in being more physical in the run game," Petrino said.

Aguirre knows it's his weakness. He's also determined to improve in hopes of earning a starting job next fall.

Aguirre may be grabbing plenty of attention this spring because of his work in pass protection, but realizes he must become a complete lineman to stay in the spotlight.

"Some players are apt to different things," Aguirre said. "Some may be better pass blockers, some run blockers, some are in the middle. I hope I'm just good and balanced at everything."

Michael Aguirre

Class: Junior

Position: Offensive Tackle

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 315 pounds

Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Notables: Entered spring practice with the second-team offense, but moved into a first-team spot after the second day of workouts. ... Played in a reserve role in both 2006 and 2007. ... Was rated as the No. 63 offensive tackle in the nation by Rivals.com in 2004. ... Is majoring in history and political science.

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