The Recruiting Guy:

Late-starting offensive tackle has Hogs' attention

By: Richard Davenport
Published: Friday, May 16, 2014
Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman on the sideline during the Razorbacks' Aug. 31, 2013 game against Louisiana-Lafayette at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Rick McFarland
Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman on the sideline during the Razorbacks' Aug. 31, 2013 game against Louisiana-Lafayette at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

Heavily recruited offensive lineman Jalen Merrick of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., received a scholarship offer before ever playing his first football game, and after only one season his total number of offers has risen to 24.

"I've been mostly a basketball fanatic my whole life until I made the transition to football last year," said Merrick, whose first offer came from Florida Atlantic. "It was actually my first year of football."

Merrick, 6-5, 310 pounds, 5.21 seconds in the 40-yard dash, already has offers from Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Michigan State.

Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman and linebackers coach Randy Shannon and graduate assistant Eric Mateo also have been in contact with Merrick.

"They said they planned to come down either this week or next week to evaluate me and see me practice," Merrick said. "They haven't offered yet, but they're on the verge."

Pittman, who has coached 14 offensive linemen who have been drafted into the NFL, has impressed Merrick.

"He's an energetic coach, on the phone at least," Merrick said. "He's really getting to know more about me and forming a relationship with me."

He also received positive feedback from Mateos.

"He liked my film and he could kind of tell I didn't play football very long," Merrick said. "He said the strides I made from my first game, which was my spring game of last year, to the last game was tremendous."

Merrick, who has a 405-pound bench press and a 31-inch vertical leap, played forward and center in basketball and was mostly a defensive presence.

"Everybody was pretty much afraid to go up against me," he said.

He said he enjoys playing a physical style of football.

"You really can't foul out because of foul trouble," Merrick said. "It's consistent contact."

A pancake block, which is recorded when a lineman puts a defender on his back, is a telling statistic for an offensive lineman.

"We didn't keep count, but I had a lot," Merrick said.

Merrick is considering a visit to Arkansas.

"It's very possible because my dad and I are suppose to be going on a road trip I believe after our spring football is over," Merrick said. "We have a three-week period before summer workouts start. We planned on hitting up a lot of the schools that have offered or basically are on the verge to."

ZACH COMING BACK

Offensive lineman Zach Rogers of Carrollton (Texas) Hebron has been challenged physically and mentally since suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury before the start of his junior season.

Rogers, 6-2, 295 pounds, 5.06 seconds in the 40-yard dash, committed to Arkansas on July 6 before his injury, choosing the Hogs over scholarship offers from Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and UCLA.

Rogers underwent several months of rehab after surgery before receiving medical clearance April 14. Hebron was in the middle of spring when Rogers made his first appearance.

"We walked out on the field, I was freaking out," Rogers said. "I was excited, too. By the time I got with the team I had calmed down a little bit and I was ready to play football again. I was very happy to get back."

Rogers said he has overcome any anxiety he had returning from injury.

"I knew it was going to be fine, but there's always a little thought in the back of your mind something could happen, something might happen," he said. "You might twist your foot the wrong way and tear it again."

Rogers said he is confident he's healthy.

"Physical part, I'm probably 99.99 percent," he said. "The only thing that I feel now, just soreness every now and then."

Rogers said Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema and offensive line coach Sam Pittman have assured him he is still wanted.

"I was never concerned about them pulling my scholarship or anything like that," said Rogers, who said Pittman visited his school Monday. "They stood behind me the whole time. Makes me feel like I made the right decision."

E-mail Richard Davenport at

rdavenport@arkansasonline.com

Sports on 05/16/2014

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