Nate Allen is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Offensive line needs to grow quickly
Arkansas offensive linemen Frank Ragnow and Hjalte Froholdt take part in a drill Tuesday, March 29, 2016, during practice at the university's practice field on campus in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Not producing the next 2013 Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper in 2016 seems paramount for Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema and new offensive line coach Kurt Anderson.
Say what? Other than 2015 graduated All-American guard Sebastian Tretola, aren't Kirkland and Skipper the most productive Bielema recruited Razorbacks offensive linemen to date?
Yes, they are with Frank Ragnow capable of eventually equalling them or better.
Kirkland proved so talented at both guard and tackle that he foregoes his Arkansas senior 2016 season for this month's NFL Draft.
Senior three-year starter Skipper and junior two-year letterman and 2015 starter Ragnow anchor an otherwise unproven offensive line.
It's so unproven that Bielema next fall might be compelled asking incoming freshmen offensive linemen Jake Heinrich and Dylan Hays to produce like he asked then true freshmen Kirkland and Skipper to produce in 2013.
He prefers not asking for so much production so soon.
Other than amazingly precocious All-American tackle Shawn Andrews excelling for the 7-5 Razorbacks of 2001, Arkansas teams starting true freshmen on the offensive line tended to be teams in trouble.
Those depleted 3-9 overall/0-8 in the SEC Hogs that Bielema inherited in 2013 from John L. Smith certainly were troubled both sides of the ball while starting true freshman guards Kirkland and Skipper.
For like fine wine, it seems most offensive linemen must be aged before they serve. The old Nebraska formula redshirting linemen a year, scout-team another year and maybe elevated third year to backup before blossoming as a junior and senior remains an ideal. Especially redshirting that first year.
Former Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino, not a patient man, nonetheless nurtured now veteran NFL offensive linemen Travis Swanson and Alvin Bailey. Petrino redshirted them as freshmen though both could have contributed depth to those 2009 Razorbacks.
Both starred ahead of schedule as redshirt freshmen starters in 2010.
Now Bielema and Anderson need some young linemen ripening this spring and summer somewhat ahead of schedule to forego next fall playing incoming freshman linemen Jake Heinrich and Dylan Hays way ahead of schedule.
Other than Skipper at right tackle and Ragnow at center, Arkansas' first-team line currently has sophomore Hjalte Froholdt, a reserve defensive tackle last year, at left guard, redshirt freshman Colton Jackson at left tackle and third-year sophomore Brian Wallace and redshirt freshman Zach Rogers competing at right guard.
The current second-team line includes a redshirt freshman, a junior college transfer and three returning walk-ons.
At least most of those unproven first-teamers and second-teamers apprenticed a year or more on the scout team.
That helps, Anderson said, to a point.
"They definitely have played a lot of scout team," Anderson said. "And they still have some scout team in them and they have got to work that scout team stuff out of them. We are not servicing the defense. We are trying put them in position where they are ready to play in the toughest conference in college football."
Sports on 04/11/2016
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