Tackles pass the eye test
With only 20 minutes of individual drills, there really wasn’t much to see in that little taste of the first Arkansas football practice Thursday afternoon. I did focus on some of what I think will be the key components for this season — the offensive tackles.
There are some things that change through the years in football, but one maxim that doesn’t ever go away: Your team will be as good as your tackles.
For the Arkansas offense, that’s likely to be Colton Jackson on the left side and Brian Wallace on the right.
Both look to be in terrific shape. They looked good to start the first practice of preseason camp. Jackson is listed at 298 pounds. Wallace is listed at 337. I’d say those weights appear to be close after watching them work.
I found the defensive tackles (or ends in the 3-4) to see if they looked the part, too. They do. McTelvin Agim, T. J. Smith, Armon Watts, Briston Guidry and Jonathan Marshall look like what you need in the SEC. I’m not sure they will play as good as they look, but that’s to be determined later in camp when pads are added.
As Bret Bielema said Thursday, it’s hard to find standouts on the lines when they aren’t wearing pads.
The one that surprised me a little bit Thursday was T. J. Smith. He’s at 290 and looked quick. I wasn’t sure he could get that big. McTelvin Agim is 286. Watts is 309. Guidry is 279. Marshall has filled out at 310. That’s a good-looking bunch.
All of those tackles — offense and defense — were the focus of my questions to Bielema in the first media opportunity of the preseason after practice. Bielema seemed pleased with most everything about his line prospects on both sides of the ball.
The coach also seemed pleased that, in the first three weeks of being a daddy, he’s changed six of his
daughter’s diapers — without them coming apart. That’s worth smiling about, along with the progress Smith has made at becoming a starter in the defensive line.
Smith is getting the first chance at the lone contested spot in the three-man front, the defensive end opposite Agim. Bijhon Jackson is the clear leader at nose tackle in the middle of those two.
“When we went back over the entire collection of the spring work, T. J. graded out the highest,” Bielema said of the sophomore from Moultrie, Ga. “He’s had a great summer.”
Coaches were high on Smith’s emphasis on technique and his quickness. After coming in at 250, Smith is finally heavy enough to take the pounding at that key position in the front.
Bielema talked up the entire offensive front, but I was most interested in what he had to say about Jackson on the left side and Wallace on the right. They are clearly the top two tackles.
“Colton looks ready,” Bielema said. “He had great spring and summer workouts.”
Wallace has finally made a move. The four-star prospect from Florissant, Mo., has always been highly regarded.
“If you ask our players who has made the biggest jump over the summer, it’s Wallace,” Bielema said. “Our guys say it’s him.”
Johnny Gibson has taken control at right guard, a spot that seemed to have a daily rotation on the first team early in the spring. Gibson was in Bielema’s doghouse for not taking lifting seriously enough. That is a thing of the past.
“I got on him a little last
winter, but he’s owned right guard,” Bielema said.
Hjalte Froholdt drew praise from Bielema at left guard. The coach said the junior from Denmark is poised for an “exceptional” year.
Of course, there are no questions about center where senior Frank Ragnow is an All-America candidate as a returning starter.
That’s not to say anything was proven by the linemen in Thursday’s practice. They can’t be standouts in shorts and no pads. It’s glorified gym class. You can’t even say they passed a conditioning test since cloudy skies reduced the heat to the 80s.
What you can tell on a day like Thursday concerns athleticism. Bielema revealed a summer competition that might have identified the top athletes, a 60- inch hurdle jump that came from men’s track coach Chris Bucknam.
That’s not to be confused with a vertical jump where anything in the 40-inch range is unusual. This is a jump that just requires leg clearance from a two-point stance.
Freshman wide receiver Jarrod Barnes cleared it his first try, highly unusual. Sophomore wide receiver Jordon Jones, cornerback Britto Tutt and wideout Gary Cross, a new arrival from junior college, also cleared that jump.
“It’s something they do with world class sprinters with our track program,” Bielema said. “So I thought it might be something we could use.”
Others were close. Junior college tight end Jeremy Patton almost made it and did clear a lesser hurdle, the only player over 250 pounds to make it.
Of the freshmen, the one that jumped out at me Thursday was Koilan Jackson, the wide receiver from Joe T. Robinson. He’s as advertised, just a wonderful specimen for a wide receiver. He’s 6-2,
214 and looks great. His arms are long and his hands are massive. He wears size 3XL gloves.
Patton has a smooth glide to his gait and an ability to hit a higher gear. He’s so gifted. You could see a burst as he took off in some individual drills. His athletic ability is exceptional. I’m interested to hear what strength coach Ben Herbert says about Patton’s testing.
From what I saw in 20 minutes, it’s clear that he’s a spectacular athlete. I don’t know how much weight lifting he’s done or what his nutrition has been, but I bet he makes some quick strides under Herbert. He’s already gained 10 pounds in just four weeks.
Those freshman wideouts have made an impression in quick order. Along with Jackson and Barnes, Bielema said De’Vion Warren is among the five fastest players on the team. Maleek Barkley is a talent, too.
“What I will tell our older guys is that we have some new guys who have learned things,” Bielema said. “A guy like Koilan is very talented for his size and has a maturity about him. The older guys better wake up. Some guys who have been here just three months have shown that they can get it right.”
It’s just one day. But things are starting right for this bunch of Razorbacks. I’ll check the tackles after a few days in pads. The heavy work will be a better indication for those young wideouts, too. It can get tougher when the dog days of August hit and there have been a couple of scrimmages. The old guys tend to step up at that point.
But speed and athletic ability sometimes trumps experience. Those new wide receivers have that.