Old hands line up

Ex­pe­ri­ence, con­ti­nu­ity fuse Hogs’ front five

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT

FAYET­TEVILLE — There was a lot of new with the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs’ of­fen­sive line last sea­son.

The Ra­zor­backs had to re­place three starters. Kurt An­der­son was in his first sea­son as the of­fen­sive line coach. Hjalte Fro­holdt moved from the de­fen­sive line.

An­der­son is back this sea­son, and the line has six play­ers with start­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I feel like we’ll be a lot bet­ter con­sid­er­ing all the ex­pe­ri­ence we got last sea­son,” ju­nior right tackle Brian Wal­lace said. “We know what to ex­pect now.

“I know what it’s like to play in games. Noth­ing’s go­ing to catch me off guard.”

Wal­lace started the fi­nal

10 games last sea­son. He was among three new starters who fin­ished the sea­son on the first-team line, along with Fro­holdt at left guard and Johnny Gib­son at right guard.

“I feel com­fort­able about the whole of­fen­sive line,” said Fro­holdt, a ju­nior who started 13 games. “We work well to­gether.

We com­mu­ni­cate very well up on the line, and we re­spond well to ad­ver­sity, too.

“We’re not per­fect on the field, but when we have a bad play we’re good about pick­ing each other up and get­ting back into it.

“We’ve taken this to a dif­fer­ent level. It’s not just the ba­sic stuff any­more. We an­a­lyze the game a lot more. It’s a lot bet­ter than last year.”

The five play­ers who fin­ished spring prac­tice as starters have been in the same spots through­out pre­sea­son prac­tice, with cen­ter Frank Rag­now and left tackle Colton Jack­son join­ing Fro­holdt, Wal­lace and Gib­son.

“I think that’s ob­vi­ously big when you talk about five guys play­ing as one,” An­der­son said. “When­ever you get an op­por­tu­nity to jell like that, it’s im­por­tant for the com­mu­ni­ca­tion piece of it, con­tin­u­ing to build on eye pro­gres­sion with each other.

“Be­cause a lot of times you’re not see­ing things through just your eyes. You have to see it through the

eyes of the guy next to you to be able to com­mu­ni­cate and get things done.”

Rag­now, a se­nior and team cap­tain, has made 26 con­sec­u­tive starts and is on sev­eral pre­sea­son All-Amer­i­can teams. “Any ques­tions or con­cerns we have, we just check with Frank,” Jack­son said. “It’s ba­si­cally like hav­ing a coach play along­side you.”

An­der­son said Rag­now’s tal­ent and lead­er­ship are in­valu­able for the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville.

“I think any time you have a se­nior leader in your room, that pays huge div­i­dends,” An­der­son said. “But it’s even more ben­e­fi­cial when it’s your start­ing cen­ter, be­cause he is the mouth­piece.

“He’s vo­cal on every play in terms of get­ting us on the right page, get­ting our eyes in the right spots and iden­ti­fy­ing cer­tain things.”

Rag­now said he’s pre­pared to be a vo­cal leader when needed, but he doesn’t ex­pect to speak up con­stantly.

“There are times I look to my left and I don’t even have to say any­thing,” Rag­now said. “I can look at Hjalte and he knows what to do.

“It’s the same thing with Johnny on the right side, and all the guys. With the of­fen­sive line, the con­ti­nu­ity is so huge. It’s def­i­nitely show­ing up this year.”

Pass pro­tec­tion was a ma­jor prob­lem last sea­son when the Ra­zor­backs al­lowed 35 sacks. Quar­ter­back Austin Allen, a se­nior re­turn­ing starter, also was hit nu­mer­ous times when he passed the ball.

“I think a lot of that comes with the amount of reps that you get to­gether,” An­der­son said of the im­prove­ment of block­ing on pass plays. “I think the ex­pec­ta­tion for us is that we want to run the foot­ball and we want to pro­tect our quar­ter­back.

“That’s been a huge fo­cus of ours. I feel good about the di­rec­tion that we’re headed.”

Allen said he’s con­fi­dent he’ll be well pro­tected by the line­men.

“All sum­mer those guys worked their tails off,” Allen said. “They were do­ing ex­tra film work, get­ting ex­tra field work.

“Hav­ing a guy like Frank come back and rub off on all those other guys is a re­ally good thing for us. He’s go­ing to be one of the top line­men taken in the draft next year. As much as he can get them go­ing, it’ll be a pretty spe­cial line for years to come.”

Gib­son, a ju­nior and former walk-on who went on schol­ar­ship be­fore the Belk Bowl, started the fi­nal five games last sea­son. He was de­moted to the sec­ond team for the start of spring prac­tice — Coach Bret Bielema said he needed to show more ma­tu­rity — be­fore re­gain­ing a start­ing spot.

“Johnny’s do­ing a re­ally good job in camp,” An­der­son said. “He’s ob­vi­ously a pow­er­ful guy. I re­ally like where he’s at in terms of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion with me, in terms of try­ing to get him­self to be the player that he en­vi­sions in his head.

“I think for the first time prob­a­bly in his life, he has the same high ex­pec­ta­tions for him­self that his coaches have had for him.”

Gib­son said the starters are push­ing each other to be bet­ter.

“I feel like we’re go­ing to make a huge leap as a line this sea­son,” Gib­son said. “We’re all work­ing to­gether and every­body’s un­der­stand­ing what we’ve got to do bet­ter, how we’re go­ing to at­tack on a cer­tain play each time.

“It’s a big thing when five peo­ple have been prac­tic­ing to­gether day in and day out, and you sit close to­gether in the film room and lis­ten to the coach­ing.”

Jack­son, a sopho­more, started the first three games last sea­son at left tackle be­fore Dan Skip­per — now a rookie with the Dal­las Cow­boys — moved there from right tackle, where Wal­lace be­came the starter.

“It hits you,” Jack­son said of los­ing a start­ing job. “It takes a toll on you men­tally, be­cause no­body wants to have that hap­pen.

“You have to take a step back and look at why it hap­pened and do bet­ter so it doesn’t hap­pen again. I’ve learned from my mis­takes.”

Jack­son said in­ex­pe­ri­ence was an is­sue for him.

“The year be­fore I was red­shirt­ing and on the scout team,” he said. “To go from that to start­ing in the SEC was a big jump.

“I feel a lot bet­ter go­ing into this sea­son. I feel a lot smarter know­ing the play­book and the scheme, the phi­los­o­phy, what to do.”

An­der­son said all of the line­men are able to learn and play at a faster pace.

“You can take it two, three steps fur­ther than you could in the past,” An­der­son said. “That’s an added bonus be­cause you’ve got guys that have been in my sys­tem in terms of ter­mi­nol­ogy and foot­work and tech­nique.

“Last year it was a lot of my­self talk­ing, a lot of them lis­ten­ing and not re­ally know­ing if they were grasp­ing what was be­ing said. Now we have good, in­tel­li­gent foot­ball con­ver­sa­tions, and we can get a lot more ac­com­plished that way.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Arkansas quar­ter­back Austin Allen lines up be­hind re­turn­ing cen­ter Frank Rag­now, with re­turn­ing starters Hjalte Fro­holdt (next to Rag­now) and Colton Jack­son flank­ing him. The Ra­zor­backs will de­pend on the of­fen­sive line’s ex­pe­ri­ence this sea­son.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHJUPE

Arkansas of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dan Enos talks to his of­fen­sive line be­fore the Ra­zor­backs scrim­maged at Reynolds Ra­zor­back Sta­dium in Fayet­teville on Sat­ur­day.

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