Tack­les pass the eye test

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - CLAY HENRY

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.

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