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.
Ollison gets shot, keeps his guard up
Arkansas offensive lineman Grady Ollison runs drills during practice Thursday, March 20, 2014 in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas offensive lineman Grady Ollison offered a blunt assessment of his play in last Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Obviously not too good,” Ollison said Tuesday. “A lot of guys won’t admit that, but me being me, I’m going to tell you true. I felt I didn’t do too good.”
Ollison, a redshirt junior from Malvern, is competing for the starting job at left guard with redshirt junior Mitch Smothers and redshirt sophomore Cordale Boyd. All three have gotten first-team work this spring.
Smothers is taking increased snaps at center, where he’s competing with fifth-year senior Luke Charpentier to replace four-year starter Travis Swanson. Boyd has worked at center as well.
“I’m trying to make sure we have two centers that we can go win with,” offensive line coach Sam Pittman said last week.
Ollison started at left guard last Saturday, but when the Razorbacks resumed practice Tuesday, he was a backup.
“Right now that position is pretty much up for grabs,” Ollison said. “It’s up to the coaches at the end of the day.”
Before spring practice, Ollison moved to guard from right tackle, where he started the first five games last season before Brey Cook moved from right guard to right tackle and took over as the starter.
Ollison, who was injured against Texas A&M, played in just two of the final seven games.
Before spring practice, Pittman made the decision to move Ollison to guard to give him a shot at starting.
“It’s quite a different world on the inside,” Ollison said. “When you move from right tackle to left guard, it’s a completely different world. But I’m loving it.”
Ollison, listed at 6-5 and 309 pounds, said he didn’t have a strong reaction when Pittman talked to him about moving. The position switch didn’t change his attitude.
“He could have kept me at right tackle and I’d still be going after it,” Ollison said. “It wouldn’t be any different.”
After last Saturday’s scrimmage, Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said Ollison had practiced well and had been “really good” off the field after previously making decisions that were disappointing.
Ollison’s recent improvement on and off the field, Bielema said, led to him starting in the scrimmage.
“I said, ‘If I let you run with the ones are we going to see good Grady or bad Grady?’ ” Bielema said. “He said, ‘You’re going to see good Grady, Coach,’ and I think he played fairly well.
“He’s a very talented player. He’s got the world in his hands and hopefully he’s going to continue to grow.”
Bielema and Pittman have praised Cook after both scrimmages for his consistency and leadership. Cook seems entrenched as a starter at right tackle, along with sophomores Dan Skipper at left tackle and Denver Kirkland at right guard.
“The tackles are playing pretty well. Our right guard is playing pretty well,” Pittman said Tuesday. “We’ve got to figure out who is going to play left guard for us and who is going to play center for us. We’re still a work in progress.”
Ollison said the coaches have stressed the need for him to be more consistent on and off the field, and that he’s made improvement, even if last Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as he had hoped.
“I feel like I can win any position where they have me playing,” Ollison said. “It just goes back to what Coach B was saying - showing up as the same person every day.”
Sports, Pages 15 on 04/17/2014