Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Yearn to learn: Razorbacks OT Jackson leaps forward after side step
Arkansas offensive linemen Hjalte Froholdt (51) and Colton Jackson move through a drill Tuesday, March 28, 2017, during spring practice at the UA practice facility in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE --Conway's Colton Jackson got a shot last spring and fall to work with the Arkansas Razorbacks' first-team offense.
Some of his time came at left tackle, considered the most important position on the line because it protects the edge on a right-handed quarterback's blind side and because it frequently takes on an opponent's top pass-rushing defensive end.
Jackson was a redshirt freshman, playing next to converted defensive lineman Hjalte Froholdt under first-year position coach Kurt Anderson.
"It was a big step," Jackson said of his initiation with the starters last week. "It all came fast. Just a lot of new stuff."
Senior Dan Skipper, who was at right tackle, swapped spots with Jackson early in fall camp. Jackson started the first three games at right tackle, all University of Arkansas, Fayetteville victories, before sophomore Brian Wallace surpassed him and held the starting spot the rest of the season.
Jackson is back at left tackle this spring to start his sophomore season. He said the opportunity, the experience and the adversity of 2016 all provided lessons.
"Of course you don't want to get your spot taken," Jackson said. "You've got to understand, when somebody can do the job better than you, it's a team thing, it's not just being selfish.
"Brian stepped up and did better in spots that I couldn't do. I took that time to get better at those spots and came forward into the spring."
Jackson said a positive attitude about his demotion was critical.
"Of course on the front end I was mad about it," said Jackson, 6-5, 304 pounds. "You've just got to take it and learn. I was a redshirt freshman. I couldn't be that mad about it."
Coach Bret Bielema and Anderson have always thought highly of Jackson and his potential, reflected by his run at left tackle ahead of Skipper a year ago. The extra year of seasoning for Jackson has them feeling better about their belief.
"He's had a fantastic spring," Anderson said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence right now. He's got a lot of power that I think he lacked a little bit at times last year.
"A lot of it just has to do with technique footwork and hand placement. His pass protection has been on point, and he's been physical in the run game. I'm really, really pleased with where he's at."
The first-team offense's best running plays in last Saturday's scrimmage came behind Jackson, who is part of an experienced, but still growing front. Center Frank Ragnow is the lone senior, while Froholdt, Wallace and right guard Johnny Gibson are juniors.
Jackson, who is being pushed by junior-college transfer Paul Ramirez, did raise Bielema's ire with a couple of miscues.
"He had two false starts, which we're not gonna allow, but athletically, in body type, you can't go out and find anybody better than what he is," Bielema said. "He's gonna have to have a big summer."
Bielema said Jackson's eagerness cost him on Saturday's penalties.
"Colton's so smart, he was trying to get a jump on the snap count," he said.
Jackson said his familiarity with the offensive schemes and his teammates on the offensive line helped him get ready for another run at left tackle.
"I feel a lot more comfortable, especially around Frank and Hjalte," he said. "We hang out off the field all the time, so it feels normal."
Jackson said the biggest difference between now and the spring of 2016 is his knowledge of what needs to be done.
"The plays, all the stuff inside-out," he said.
Blocking defensive line veterans like Deatrich Wise Jr., Jeremiah Ledbetter and JaMichael Winston and up-and-comer McTelvin Agim, helped Jackson learn how to deal with the various pass-rush moves of top talent, but what he really learned was to pay attention to Skipper.
"I watched what he does and how he prepares for games and practice every day and what he does off the field," Jackson said. "His pregame, his prepractice preparations, all that. I took notes off of it."
Jackson said he's maintained 304 pounds through the off-season, but has improved his strength.
Anderson said he is feeling upbeat about the direction of his unit.
"I really feel like with this offensive line that we have going right now this spring, we have the opportunity to be difference-makers," Anderson said. "To be a difference maker on the offensive line. ... You can take a game over and control it with how you attack the line of scrimmage every play and run the football. And I'm really happy with where we're at right now."
Sports on 04/17/2017
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