Coaches don’t ex­pect Hogs’ line crossed

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - THE SECOND PAGE - NATE ALLEN

FAYET­TEVILLE — Cir­cum­stances com­pelled the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs to start four not-ready­for-prime-time play­ers among their five offensive line po­si­tions last sea­son.

En­ter­ing to­day’s scrim­mage, Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville Coach Bret Bielema and offensive line coach Kurt An­der­son are se­cure about all five starters. They also be­lieve three or four back­ups could step in eas­ily this sea­son.

Se­nior Frank Rag­now re­turns to great ex­pec­ta­tions as preseason first-team All-SEC at cen­ter.

An­der­son, even as a first-year coach for Arkansas, and Bielema knew well what Rag­now could do be­fore last sea­son com­menced.

It’s last year’s not-ready-for­prime-time play­ers — guards Hjalte Fro­holdt and Johnny Gib­son, and tack­les Colton Jack­son and Brian Wal­lace — who prime Bielema and An­der­son into think­ing their start­ing line is fine this sea­son.

Gib­son, a Du­mas na­tive who is now a fourth-year ju­nior on schol­ar­ship, ac­tu­ally played well as a walk-on when thrust into the start­ing right guard role dur­ing the sea­son’s fi­nal five games.

Fro­holdt, who con­verted from de­fen­sive tackle last sea­son, had no offensive line ex­pe­ri­ence un­til spring 2016 be­fore start­ing 13 games at left guard as a true sopho­more.

Wal­lace, 6-6, 337 pounds, was highly touted since red­shirt­ing in 2014, but in 2015 he played only three games be­hind a vet­eran line. Ini­tially, Wal­lace couldn’t beat out Jack­son, 6-5, 298, but he won the right tackle job four games into 2016.

Now Wal­lace re­mains at right tackle while Jack­son blos­soms at left tackle.

“He [Jack­son] can be as dom­i­nant with his ath­leti­cism as any left tackle in this con­fer­ence,” An­der­son said.

Not only do the coaches have full con­fi­dence in their start­ing five, but they fore­see ju­nior cen­ter-guard Zach Rogers, third-year sopho­more guard-tackle Jalen Mer­rick, red­shirted juco trans­fer tackle Paul Ramirez and se­nior sec­ond-year Univer­sity of Texas grad­u­ate trans­fer Jake Rauler­son spell­ing starters and step­ping up if in­juries strike.

Off his Texas ex­pe­ri­ence and ver­sa­til­ity, “Jake’s our Swiss Army knife,” Bielema said of Rauler­son play­ing any­where on the line. He started last sea­son’s first eight games, but he fin­ished benched. What worked some­times in the fi­nesse Big 12 Con­fer­ence didn’t work for Rauler­son in the more phys­i­cal SEC.

Rauler­son is bet­ter equipped for the SEC now but must re­al­ize it, Bielema said, es­ti­mat­ing Rauler­son, 6-4, 313, has added 20 pounds of mus­cle since last sea­son.

“When he first got here, he was un­der­de­vel­oped,” Bielema said. “A lot of times when kids don’t have con­fi­dence to play phys­i­cally they try to put on a Band-Aid and re­vert to some things to sur­vive.

“Last Satur­day [in the full-scale scrim­mage] I saw him re­vert. So all week I’ve been ham­mer­ing him: ‘Lis­ten, bro, you’ve got great strength. You put on 20 pounds. Use them. You don’t have to put a Band-Aid on this any­more.’ ”

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