Plagued by two second half collapses that completely changed the narrative of Arkansas’ 2016 season, Razorback head coach Bret Bielema needs to put an end to those issues in a hurry heading into 2017. While the changes to the team’s defensive philosophy and coaching staff will likely receive the majority of the attention this offseason, correcting the offensive line will be just as important to the team’s success next season.
The biggest question mark for the Razorbacks last offseason centered around first-year starting quarterback Austin Allen. Despite the vocal protests heard all offseason to give a quarterback without the last name Allen a shot in Fayetteville, Austin was arguably the SEC’s best quarterback halfway into the season. However, Allen eventually regressed as the season wore on, thanks in part to offensive line’s failure to adequately protect him in conference play. By season’s end, the Razorbacks gave up 35 sacks on the season, which ranked next to last in the SEC.
Once known for its strong, physical offensive line play, the Razorbacks seemed to have lost that identity last season. Now forced to deal with replacing four-year starter Dan Skipper, the last three exclusively at left tackle, Arkansas will attempt to not only fix its offensive line woes but replace Allen’s blindside protector.
While speaking to the media at Arkansas’ Pro Day event Wednesday, Bielema was asked to give his starting offensive line entering the spring.
“I think if we lined up today it’d be Colton (Jackson) at left (tackle), Hjalte (Froholdt) at left guard, Frank (Ragnow) at center, Johnny Gib(son) at right guard, and at right tackle probably Jake Raulerson or Brian Wallace — either one of those two,” Bielema revealed.
“Jake Raulerson, this is his first out of season with us and his body looks different, he’s a different player. Plus, another year in our system and know what our expectations are, how we do things here, that’s really helped him. He’s grown a lot. A couple of other guys that have had good out of seasons, particularly up front, Deion Malone has been really an impressive guy.”
Aside from the team’s likely starters up front, Bielema noted his excitement with the three high school early enrollees already on campus and working out with the team.
“The free freshmen, Shane Clenin is a very, very talented player, Dalton Wagner probably a tackle but great demeanor, Kirby Adcock is a really good athlete is just kinda beginning to understand how good he can be,” Bielema added.
As for replacing Skipper at left tackle in the starting lineup, Bielema seems to have taken a liking to the in-state redshirt freshman on the roster.
“The six guys that have started games have been very very impressive in the way that they have handled it since then, and I’d say the guy that’s jumped out the most is Colton Jackson. He’s has taken a step forward in competitive nature,” Bielema admitted, “and I’m really excited to see him play.”
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