Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Skipper geared up to tackle new role
Arkansas tackle Dan Skipper runs drills during Thursday afternoon's practice in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Sophomore Dan Skipper is back at his familiar left tackle spot for Arkansas this spring as coaches reshuffle the offensive line trying to find the best group of starters for the 2014 season.
Last season Skipper, 6-10 and 315 pounds, started the final eight games at left guard, the first time he played an interior line position. He’s now working as the first-team left tackle in place of David Hurd, a senior last season.
“I think Skipper has come a long way at the tackle spot,” Razorbacks offensive line coach Sam Pittman said. “It’s a little different out there for him because you have more space to cover.
“Certainly coming into spring, you’re wondering can he be the left tackle that you’d like for him to be. I think the answer is yes. I think he’s going to be a really good one.”
Skipper is going through his first spring practice.
“I don’t feel like a lost puppy out there like I did the first day of camp last fall. I can play fast now,” he said. “I know the offense better than I ever have, and now that I’m not as focused on trying to know what I’m doing, I can focus on how I’m doing it.”
Skipper said he didn’t have any hesitation about playing guard as a true freshman.
“It was difficult going inside, but it got me on the field and I came here to play,” he said. “I thought I played to the top of my ability [last season]. Now that’s not even close to where I want to be playing or where I need to be playing. That’s behind me, and I’ve got to focus on this year and prepare to be the best left tackle I can be.”
Pittman said Skipper had some technique issues early in spring but is doing a good job of extending his arms to fend off defensive linemen.
“Dan’s a talented kid with long arms and he wasn’t using them, so we had to train him how to punch,” Pittman said. “He’s done a nice job with that.
“We didn’t have to teach him to throw a punch, because he’s done that quite a bit. We had to teach him how to punch with two hands.”
Skipper was sent to the sideline for a few plays in Saturday’s scrimmage after throwing some punches when a fight broke out. There were some defensive linemen slapping helmets, too.
“But Skipper is 6-10,” Pittman said. “He kind of stands out in a crowd when things happen.”
Pittman said Skipper is a physical player who won’t back down.
“A lot of that is what makes him good,” Pittman said. “He has an unbelievable motor and he’s contagious, and guys want to play like him and guys want to play around him.
“He didn’t get a personal foul penalty last year. He would have in the scrimmage, so we addressed that, but we’re certainly not going to take his aggression out of him.”
Skipper’s move to tackle means the Razorbacks have to find a new left guard, and juniors Mitch Smothers and Grady Ollison have been getting first-team snaps there this spring. Pittman said Tuesday that Smothers is still working with the first team even though he struggled with penalties in Saturday’s scrimmage, which resulted in Ollison getting more work with the starters.
Pittman said the decision was made in the off-season to move Ollison from tackle to guard - he started the first five games at right tackle last season before being replaced by senior Brey Cook - to give him a shot to get back in the lineup.
Pittman said Smothers is still working at first-team left guard, but that it’s a close competition.
Cook, who started 11 games last season, is at first-team right tackle with sophomore Denver Kirkland at right guard, where he started the final eight games last year when Cook moved from from guard to tackle.
Pittman said Cook graded out highest among the linemen in the scrimmage.
“He’s getting better. He’s playing faster,” Pittman said. “He’s playing physical, and he’s a good leader for us.”
Fifth-year senior Luke Charpentier is working at first-team center in place of Travis Swanson, a four-year starter who was an All-SEC pick last season.
“I feel like it’s my time,” Charpentier said. “I’m a five year guy, and I’ve been waiting my turn.”
Sophomore Cordale Boyd is at second-team center after playing guard last season.
“I like Charpentier and I like Boyd,” Pittman said. “Those guys understand the playbook, they understand their calls. I think they’ve both done a nice job, but Charpentier has really taken off and run with it a little bit. Cordale is going to be a little further back right now because he hasn’t played that position for very long.”
Juniors Austin Beck and Marcus Danenhauer are working at second-team left and right tackle spots with junior Johnathan McClure - a junior college transfer who redshirted last season - at second-team right guard.
“I’m excited about our line,” Pittman said. “Between the guys we have coming in and the guys we already have on the team, I think we’ll end up having 10 nice linemen that we can go compete with.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 04/09/2014