Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Maturity abundant on Razorbacks' O-line
Arkansas offensive lineman Frank Ragnow moves through a drill Tuesday, March 28, 2017, during spring practice at the UA practice facility in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas Razorbacks senior center Frank Ragnow said he sees a lot to like on either side of him along the offensive line this spring.
"We're all more mature," Ragnow said. "That's a lot more comfortable feeling.
"The game slows down so much when you get experience, so hopefully we can go from maybe one of the team's weaknesses last year to one of the strengths this year."
Going into last season, Ragnow and tackle Dan Skipper were the Razorbacks' only linemen with significant playing experience.
Skipper was All-SEC as a senior and started his final 47 games, but he was the line's only significant loss after last season.
Ragnow has 26 career starts and is among six returning linemen who started at least three games last season.
"It's always hard to replace a guy like Skip, but it's nice to have six guys back with big-game experience," said Kurt Anderson, in his second year as the Razorbacks' offensive line coach. "That carried over into the offseason and now into spring practice.
"They're on top of their technique. They're on top of their communication. They're locked in. We're light years ahead of where we were last spring."
Along with Ragnow, other first-team returners on the line this spring are junior Hjalte Froholdt (13 starts last season) at left guard, junior Brian Wallace (10) at right tackle, senior Jake Raulerson at right guard (8) and sophomore Colton Jackson (3) at left tackle.
Jackson, who started the first three games at right tackle last season before being replaced by Wallace, has taken over Skipper's old spot on the left side.
"Colton's very athletic, very smart," Anderson said. "He's really taken a big step forward in terms of his accountability out on the field. He's being more vocal.
"I think he has a lot more confidence in the technique and what he's being asked to do. I really think he gained a lot strength, too. He's heavier at about 303. Last year he was in the 290s, so that's helped him.
"But he hasn't lost a step. He's getting off on the ball. He's taking great sets. He's using his hands. I really like where he's at."
Johnny Gibson, a junior, replaced Raulerson as the starting right guard the final five games last season. But Coach Bret Bielema said Gibson won't get first-team work this spring because he needs to show more commitment after being put on scholarship before the Belk Bowl in December.
"I expect him to do everything we're asking him to do on the field and off the field," Bielema said. "He's got a chance to re-prove himself, and he's doing a good job."
Raulerson, a graduate transfer from Texas who had immediately eligibility last season, is more physical this spring, according to Anderson.
"He was coming from a Texas program that was more of a spread and zone [blocking] type of deal, so being around that 295-pound area was maybe conducive to that style of offense," Anderson said. "When you play in the SEC, you'd better have some lead in your pencil.
"What he's been able to do is get up to about 315, and you see more power in his steps. He's moving bodies and he's carrying the weight well."
Linemen getting second-team work are true freshman Shane Clenin at left tackle, junior Deion Malone at left guard, junior Zach Rogers at center and right guard, redshirt freshman Dylan Hays at center and right guard, Gibson at right guard and sophomore Jalen Merrick at right tackle.
Ragnow and Anderson said Malone, a junior college transfer who redshirted last season, has been especially impressive among the backups.
"A guy that has blown me out of the water is Deion Malone," Ragnow said. "I'd keep an eye out for him.
"He's been working as hard as anybody. He's really changed his body and his mentality."
Anderson said he wants to Malone to get some work at right guard and the tackle spots as well to give him more chances to compete for playing time.
"Deion's earned that opportunity," Anderson said. "He's making a push, and he's been nothing but positive.
"He brings an energy to this team. He's infectious with the way he approaches life and approaches the game."
With 18 offensive linemen on Arkansas' spring roster, there is plenty of competition at all positions.
"It's not only the ones that know everything," Ragnow said. "It's going through the twos and even the threes.
"Everyone is starting to really buy in and know the system as a whole."
Sports on 04/04/2017
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.