This Arkansas offensive line returns four starters and the fifth (Frank Ragnow) played in nine games in 2014. What looks to be on paper a solid and experienced group showed just that in the spring game. On film we saw the same hard-nosed, full-speed smash-your-face football at its finest.
The position changes by Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper led me to take a closer look at how they did in the spring game and what can be expected this fall by the group as a whole.
I really wanted to start with this group up front because some of the other areas are a little harder to judge in a controlled spring game situation. Factors like the amount of plays used, shifts, checks, blitzes by the defense and level of competition can all play a big part of the "skill players" performance.
This can make grading an offensive line difficult as well, but the physical nature of the play calling lends itself to a more realistic look of what is going on. The second team defensive line is also really talented, and most of them have SEC experience. The defensive tackle who lacks that experience jumped out on film, and I will get to that later. For the five up front, this scrimmage was a good indicator of what Sam Pittman has to work with going into preseason camp.
Kirkland at Tackle, Still Dominant
More of the same from one of the best in the nation.
Kirkland and Henry combo block on the DE on this play. From his LT position Kirkland steps and is able to wash the end (Wise) all the way down in to the A gap. Frank Ragnow pulls and takes out the fill linebacker allowing the back to get to the edge. A better block by the fullback on the linebacker would have led to a huge gain like Walker was able to do later. Big gain with great execution picking up the first down. This power off tackle play is going to be even deadlier in 2015 with Kirkland at tackle and his ability to block down.
Personnel: 21, FB Colquitt lined up at wing
Play Call: Power O
Dan Skipper vs Hjalte Froholdt Battle:
There were some battles between Skipper and the freshmen, and at times Froholdt was able to create some havoc. He does not show many moves or technical hand placement but has the strength to bull rush at will. On this play Froholdt does not make the tackle but causes penetration that makes more room for the linebackers to flow. His pure power will be a matchup nightmare next season as he develops.
Personnel:11, flexed TE to provide easier block
Play Call: Power G lead
Skipper gets knocked back, but it is a tough block pinning for the pulling guard. A little disheartening to see the starting third year tackle be done like that but at the same time it shows some great things ahead for Froholdt. Also, the agility that Frank Ragnow shows on his open pull to meet the linebacker on the edge is impressive.
Skipper would switch back to LT in the second half and looked more comfortable, some cross training going on. Overall his performance was good, with some stout competition across the ball.
Change Up, Inside Zone
Both Bielema and Enos like to throw in some zone schemes from time to time. This was an example from the Spring game film and there are many like this from the last few seasons. A staple of the Bielema run game philosophy that will be used in those short yardage and goal line situations.
Personnel: 12, Bunch
Play Call: Inside Zone
This play is designed to set up the linebacker and allow for a cut back inside for the most part. Or with some of the other backs like Alex Collins and at times Williams, it allows for a bounce all the way back to the strong side of the formation.
The most obvious improvement was the QB being able to step up in to the pocket. Enos likes to use many variations of straight 3 and 5 step drops from under center. Giving Brandon Allen the lane to step up and throw down the field will give this offense what it needs to take that next step.
Here against Deatrich Wise - who may well be a starting DE and one of the team's best pass rushers - is stuffed by Skipper. Kirkland on the other side kick-slides and stops Jeremiah Ledbetter's move to undercut fairly easily. They used mostly 5-man base protection in this scrimmage and put the tackles on islands a ton.
The best example was on the TD pass to Hatcher where Allen was able to step up in the pocket. All five lineman showed on this play why they can be one of the best in the SEC.
Shotgun Run Game:
Finally one detail that stood out in the 2:00 drive at the end of the 2nd quarter: the run plays from shotgun. This was an area that became a nightmare several times last season. Being able to catch the defense in a favorable formation expecting pass will allow some of those crucial 12-15 yard runs. Breaking off a few of those in 2:00 offense opens up a lot of other possibilities, and in my opinion that is where Enos will show a lot of improvement.
Personnel: 11, 3 Wide
Play Call: Power G lead
Looking at a scrimmage in April is obviously nowhere near the same level as an SEC opponent, but this two deep looks to have more experience and versatility than any since Bielema took over. Mauling the undersized defenses early in non conference should give those backups a ton of reps.
"It's probably been the cleanest depth chart since I have been here. Pretty clear cut where guys are at. Offensively obviously the O-line movement that we made there was really, really good. They played their best game or best performance on Saturday." Bret Bielema after spring game.
Cross-training and moving Kirkland and Skipper are luxuries Arkansas has not had until this year. Brian Wallace got some reps in the second half at RT and looked like he could fill that spot if needed. The guards on the inside did not miss any blocks and held up in pass protection while being tested with less help. I see no reason to be concerned that this group will have a drop off, and will dominate at times again this season.