Centers of Attention

FAYETTEVILLE — Wade Grayson left spring practice poised to become the successor to departed center Jonathan Luigs.

The junior began dabbling at the position early last summer as Arkansas planned for the future. And after holding down a starting job at weak guard in 2008, the Harrison native was snapping the ball for the first-team offense throughout spring practice.

But when the team's depth chart was unveiled before preseason practice began, something had changed. Sophomore Seth Oxner, not Grayson, was penciled in as the Razorbacks' first-team center.

"Yeah, I was a little surprised," Grayson said.

Competition is the theme of Arkansas' preseason camp and the summer switch at center has triggered an intriguing battle in the trenches. Grayson and Oxner, who were roommates when they first arrived at Arkansas in 2007, are fighting for a starting spot at position being watched very closely by the Razorbacks.

"I think that's probably the most important thing we have to do on the offensive front, solidify who the starting center is," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said last Saturday.

Said guard Mitch Petrus: "Which one is it going to be?"

Petrino had no doubt last season, when Luigs returned for his senior year after winning the 2007 Rimington Trophy. The Little Rock native, who started 41 straight games at center, was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in April.

The search for his replacement began with Grayson, who showed some promise in the spring. Arkansas wasn't convinced, though.

Petrino said Oxner's climb was the result of impressive work in the weight room and leadership during summer workouts.

The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Oxner is glad Petrino noticed, but isn't comfortable. He knows Grayson is putting up a fight.

"It's been back and forth," Oxner said. "Both of us are doing pretty good. We're trying to make each other better. ... But I feel privileged. I've waited two years for a chance and it's here."

Oxner knows he still has a long way to go to win the job. In fact, Arkansas doesn't appear to be in any hurry to decide. When asked how long it could last, Petrino said: "It's a long season."

Offensive line coach Mike Summers said both players have made steady improvement in camp. He said Oxner has gotten better in pass protection, while Grayson always plays hard and tough.

"They both are new to the position," he said. "Their development grows every day. They just have to push hard and push each other so that together we have one really good center."

Someone will be named the starter for the season opener on Sept. 5. Oxner and Grayson said they'll respect the decision.

Until then, they'll continue trying to get a leg up on each other during practice throughout the preseason.

"It's two players wanting to get a starting position," Grayson said. "We're still friends. There's no hated rivalry. We're just going out and trying to work as hard as we can to get the starting job."

Tale of the Tape

Seth Oxner

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 315 pounds

Class: Redshirt Sophomore

Hometown: Monticello

Info: Earned playing time on special teams as a in 2008; backed up Jonathan Luigs throughout the season; has held the first-team spot at center this preseason.

Wade Grayson

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 296 pounds

Class: Junior

Hometown: Harrison

Info: Started 12 games at weak guard in 2008; earned one start at guard in 2007; worked with the first-team offense at center throughout spring practice.

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