State of the Hogs: Texas help on the way for O-line rebuild

By: Clay Henry
Published: Friday, February 15, 2019
Head coach Kurt Traylor speaks as offensive lineman Beaux Limmer sits at his signing event at Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, Texas, on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Limmer signed to play football at the University of Arkansas. (Chelsea Purgahn/Tyler Morning Telegraph)
Head coach Kurt Traylor speaks as offensive lineman Beaux Limmer sits at his signing event at Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, Texas, on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Limmer signed to play football at the University of Arkansas. (Chelsea Purgahn/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Who will play quarterback for the 2019 Arkansas football team seems to be the major talking point as Arkansas heads toward spring drills in two weeks.

Will SMU transfer Ben Hicks beat out baseball pitcher Connor Noland? What about the possibility of Texas A&M transfer Nick Starkel arriving this summer? Hicks has one year of eligibility after transferring from SMU. Starkel, still deciding on where to land but will visit Arkansas on March 1, would have two years of eligibility.

Don't forget about Noland, scheduled to start Saturday for Dave Van Horn's baseball team. And, remember, Noland still has four years of football eligibility because he played in four games last fall, the maximum amount to play without losing a season of eligibility under the new redshirt rule.

Yes, quarterback is important, but what most are forgetting is the rebuild that must be done in the offensive line. That struggling unit lost its three most reliable players in seniors Hjalte Froholdt, Johnny Gibson and Brian Wallace.

My general rule in figuring out the prospects of a football team are just as closely tied with what's up front than it is with the quarterback. Both are important, but I might argue that an offense can't be good without a great five-man blocking unit.

With that in mind, I reached out to the coaches of the six players in the 2019 recruiting class as part of the research for the March issue of Hawgs Illustrated, our recruiting wrap-up. All had good takes, but the one that was most interesting came from Kurt Traylor, head coach at Tyler Lee High School in Texas.

Traylor has incredible ties to the Chad Morris staff. First, his brother, Jeff, is the running backs coach.

The Traylor brothers are something akin to East Texas high school royalty for what they did at Jacksonville and Gilmer, much of that time as regulars in the state championship game.

Gilmer won three state titles under Jeff Traylor and played in the title game two other times. Gilmer named its stadium after him. Kurt Traylor was his offensive line coach at Jacksonville and Gilmer.

Gilmer's 2014 offense averaged 59.4 points per game, the second-most points in Texas high school football history. That was one of two 16-0 teams the Traylors coached at Gilmer.

The phone hook-up with Kurt Traylor came about to discuss UA signee Beaux Limmer, but it went into far more topics as offensive line play became the primary subject. Limmer was the first O-line commitment in the 2019 Arkansas class and one of the best.

The deeper the interview went, the more interesting it became. Traylor knows the Morris offense intimately. He and his brother began to study the Morris spread back in Morris' days at Stephenville, Texas. But their relationships date to Morris' days as high school head coach at Elysian Fields.

“What we ran at Gilmer for 16 years, it was variations of what Chad ran,” Kurt Traylor said. “You always add your little twists or tweaks, but it was a lot of the same things. We were in the spread really way back before many others.

“Now almost everyone is running some variation and some are different than others.”

But to discuss offensive line play, Kurt Traylor wanted to add an Arkansas twist to his coaching tree, that began as a graduate assistant at Texas A&M under J.B. Grimes. Grimes is in his second stint as offensive line coach at Auburn under Gus Malzahn.

Grimes, native of Clarendon and a Henderson State graduate, was a graduate assistant under Lou Holtz at Arkansas, then was a full-time assistant under Ken Hatfield and Jack Crowe.

Traylor still visits with Grimes. When he's got a potential high Division I prospect in the O-line, one of the first calls is to Grimes.

“I'll call J.B., and ask, 'What do you think?' And, he'll tell me right away, he can play or he can't at that level,” Kurt Traylor said. “He's always right.”

Traylor said he called Grimes immediately upon arriving at Tyler Lee two years ago with tape of Limmer.

“J.B. said you'd like to see them in person, but he said Beaux was really good and could play (in the SEC),” Traylor said. “As it turned out, Beaux is the best I've ever coached.”

And, that covers almost a dozen who have played at Power 5 schools.

“I've sent them to Texas, Texas A&M, Missouri and Oklahoma State,” Traylor said. “But what I say about Beaux, he's the most athletic of all of them.”

How quickly can Limmer help the Hogs and at what position?

“We played him at right tackle, but I think they may put him at center at Arkansas,” Traylor said. “I'm big on making everyone snap it. You just don't know what's going to happen during a year. You better have a bunch ready to snap. You can't have enough centers.”

Sure enough, they had injuries at center this last season at Tyler Lee. Limmer played two games at center without a hiccup.

“I can remember a year when I first got into high school coaching where we lost some centers and all at once, we didn't have anyone who had snapped,” Traylor said. “Starting then, I had every linemen snap all the way down to the seventh grade bunch. Every day, they all snapped a little to start practice. You don't ever want to be without a center who knows how to snap it.”

Limmer isn't just athletic.

“He's 285 (pounds) right now and he's really strong,” Traylor said. “I think it's that strength that will let him help out early at Arkansas. He benches 380 and squats 580. He needs about 20 more pounds of bulk and he'll get that at Arkansas.”

Limmer has the rest of the package, too.

“You meet him, he's one of the nicest persons ever,” Traylor said. “But he's got those Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personalities.

“He's a whole different guy once he steps on the field. He finishes his blocks, plays with a chip on his shoulder. He's the most talented offensive lineman I've coached.

“His IQ is above normal. He's a 4.0 student - both parents are teachers. He's just really smart.”

Traylor said Limmer did have to make a transition as a sophomore.

“When we first got here, I think he was maybe 6-5, 260 as a sophomore, but he didn't know how to practice," Traylor said. "I told him he'd have to change to ever become really good.”

The idea was to make every repetition in practice the best.

“I explained to him, no matter what you do, it has to be better and that even goes to the walk through days,” Traylor said. “My explanation was that you have to do the little things well and the big things take care of themselves. He got it. That spread from the practice field to the weight room. He flipped the switch.”

And, it wasn't always fun for his teammates.

“I'd put him against our best defensive linemen, a really good kid, 6-3, 270,” Traylor said. “Beaux would block him all the way to the track. I'd blow the whistle and Beaux kept going. I had to explain that he's a teammate and we couldn't do that.”

Arkansas offensive line coach Dustin Fry noticed that right away. There were some tape clips that showed effort past the whistle.

Traylor is pleased to turn Limmer over to Fry.

“Dustin is one of the best,” Traylor said. “I study O-line coaches and I put him and J.B. together.”

Fry's strength, Traylor said, is assessing ability and making sure they can handle assignments.

“I think Dustin coaches to the ability of the player,” he said. “He's not going to ask them to do something they can't do.

“I've known Dustin from when he was a (graduate assistant) at Clemson. Jeff took our staff to Clemson to study what they were doing in Coach Morris' offense and I went with Dustin immediately. I really like him and the way he handles players and coaches technique. He's so good.”

Fry has praise for Limmer, noting he was the first of the O-line commitments.

“When you watch him, over and over he’s putting people on their back,” Fry said. “All of these O-linemen that we’re bringing in, the biggest thing you see is that they are finishers and then they’re looking for someone else to go after.

“He knows he’s going to have to add some bulk, add some weight, but, man, he’s got such great feet and that mentality. When he adds 15 pounds of muscle, you’re going to have a special player right there.”

Limmer will have an advantage over some incoming players because of the similarities in schemes.

“We pretty much run the same stuff as Coach Morris,” Traylor said. “We may have used different terms, but it's the same. It will all be very familiar to Beaux.”

Familiar isn't taking it far enough where it comes to Traylor – brothers Jeff and Kurt - and Morris.

“It's a tight relationship,” Kurt Traylor said. “I am close to all of those guys on that staff, too. I'll be up there several times this spring. Our spring break and their spring break are on different weeks. So I'm going to go up there with my sons and we'll be at practice, and then I'll go back the next week for their spring break.

“My boys want to be out there at practice. I wish I could say they are watching, but they aren't. The whole time they are out there, they are probably going to be playing catch with a football, not watching.”

It promises to be a madhouse, with a lot more than Tyler Lee coaches around. There were several Saturdays last spring that as many as 400 or 500 high school coaches and players were at an Arkansas practice.

“That's what I saw,” Kurt Traylor said. “And, that's always going to be the way it is with Coach Morris. He welcomes everyone.

“I think what he – and Jeff, too – are always going to say very first, they are high school coaches. Yes, they may be coaching in the SEC now at the highest level of college football, but they are still just high school coaches.

“That's what makes all of us in Texas and now in Arkansas so happy for them. They still know they are high school coaches, like us.”

And, it's the same in high school as it is in the SEC, the offensive line has to get right before the Hogs can get right.

“I believe that,” Traylor said. “I've always felt that if you have a great offensive line, you have a chance to be great. You won't be great without really good offensive line play. I've seen that every year that I've coached in high school and it's no different (at Arkansas).”

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