If Arkansas is going to improve on its 7-6 record from a season ago, it has to start with improved play up front from the offensive line.

In what was very uncharacteristic of a Bret Bielema-coached team, last season’s offensive line struggled to gain much push up front in the run game when it mattered. Adding to the line’s woes, the unit failed to adequately protect quarterback Austin Allen during SEC play. The Razorbacks gave up 35 sacks last season, second worst in the SEC behind only South Carolina.

The line’s poor play was recently singled out by SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy and has caused others to wonder how Allen survived the season without serious injury.

In his introductory fall press conference, Bielema sounded quite optimistic regarding his line. The Arkansas coach had plenty of positives to say about each projected starter up front and even touched on some backups that could elevate into the starting lineup leading up to the Aug. 31 opener against Florida A&M.

“(Left tackle) Colton Jackson’s had a really, really good spring and summer,” Bielema beamed. “(Left guard) Hjalte (Froholdt)… I’m so excited for him. I think our move there not only is a great move for him, but it’s a life changer. I think he’s going to be an exceptional football player. (Center) Frank (Ragnow) is playing really, really well. At right guard, Johnny Gibson has kind of took it and owned it. I got on him a little bit in the winter last year, and he’s really shown a lot of maturity in everything he’s doing, and I’m there.”

Bielema then went on to note that perhaps the unit’s most improved player this season will be the team’s potential right tackle.

“Brian Wallace, I think if you asked a lot of guys, especially the O-Linemen, ‘Who made the biggest jump this summer?’ I think (he) would be a guy that gets a lot of votes,” Bielema continued. “Just looks different in everything that he’s doing. His confidence level, just everything, it’s pretty impressive.”

While that five figures to be the odds-on favorite to start the season as the first-team unit, the Razorback coach listed a few key reserves that will continue to be given looks in fall camp.

“Paul Ramirez has had a really nice summer, done some nice things…  Maybe a Zach Rogers popping out or Jake Raulerson. (Raulerson) was getting reps at both tackle and guard,” Bielema added. “Jake’s kind of our Swiss army knife. He kind of does it all. He can literally play all five positions.”

Whatever combination the team decides to go with, the progression of the unit will certainly be a key to watch as fall camp starts to heat up. With so much uncertainty on the perimeter of the offense, if the offense isn’t strong from the inside out, the Razorbacks could be looking at a tough season in 2017.