Same names, different games: Arkansas overhauls offensive line
The Arkansas Razorbacks boasted one of the SEC’s most talented and consistent offensive lines in 2014, paving the way for two 1,000-yard rushers while allowing the fewest sacks and third-fewest tackles for loss of any line in the conference.
However, despite losing only one starter from last year’s line (right tackle Brey Cook), the line has experience a complete transformation in the three months since the end of the 2014 campaign.
Of the four returning starters, two are changing positions, and the one new starter in the lineup is undergoing a position change of his own, raising the total to three changes just among the five projected starters in 2015.
Last year’s left tackle, Dan Skipper, known for his enormous 6-foot-8 frame, is moving to right tackle to fill the spot left vacant when Cook graduated last winter. As a result, star right guard Denver Kirkland is moving to Skipper’s former left tackle spot, and Frank Ragnow, the team’s backup center last season who saw time at center in nine games, is moving to Kirkland’s former home at right guard.
Starting center Mitch Smothers and left guard Sebastian Tretola are staying put, but with the movement around them along the line they’ll need to build new chemistry up front despite losing just one former starter. It truly is as though the Hogs are introducing a brand new line into the lineup, even though 80 percent of the starters not only started but excelled last season.
Both 1,000-yard rushers are back for another season, so it’s safe to assume that Arkansas is going to remain committed to the run again in 2015. The line is going to be heavily leaned upon throughout the season, especially in SEC play, making it imperative that the linemen learn their new positions and build new chemistry up front while playing new roles on the offense.
But these position changes were not made out of boredom, and they certainly weren’t made due to lack of results last season. Head coach Bret Bielema explained the changes in an interview with ESPN earlier this month.
“[The offensive line] is going to be a huge, huge asset to our program,” Bielema told ESPN. “We have our best pass-pro play over to our left tackle spot, Denver Kirkland. We moved Dan Skipper from left to right (tackle). … We have Sebastian Tretola at left guard, which puts two of our better players right next to each other to play a little left-handed football.”
So there is indeed a rhyme and reason to the shakeup along the line. But position changes weren’t the only changes to impact the line this offseason.
Players from last year’s line hit the weight room following the end of the season, and all five will returned in better shape to fill their new roles this fall. The same line that served as the largest in all of organized football, including the NFL, dropped a collective 30 pounds from their playing weights last season to the start of spring.
Skipper dropped 19 pounds by himself in moving from the left side of the line to the right. He’s still 6-foot-8 with arms that extend for what seems like miles, but now he’s now the lightest member of the line and will be a bit fleeter of foot when protecting the head-on rushers quarterback Brandon Allen will face.
Tretola dropped 28 pounds to sit close to 320, and he, too, will be able to move better in space as a result when pulling from the guard position.
Ragnow actually bulked up 11 pounds in moving from center to guard, likely in an effort to add sturdiness to his frame as he prepares to face more one-on-one matchups with defensive tackles.
Nevertheless, the drastic change in playing weights will change the Hogs’ linemen’s styles of play from last season to the season ahead, which could allow the entire offense to do some new things under new coordinator Dan Enos.
For a unit as accomplished as the Arkansas offensive line, these changes may take some getting used to, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll hold back the Razorbacks in 2015.
|Player||2014 position||2015 position||2014 weight||2015 weight|
|Denver Kirkland||RG||LT||337 lbs.||343 lbs|
|Dan Skipper||LT||RT||326 lbs.||307 lbs.|
|Frank Ragnow||C||RG||300 lbs.||311 lbs.|
|Mitch Smothers||C||C||315 lbs.||315 lbs.|
|Sebastian Tretola||LG||LG||350 lbs.||322 lbs.|