As the 2013 season draws near, concern is on the mind of Arkansas Razorbacks fans about how well their team will perform under Bret Bielema‘s watch in his first season.
With fall camp practices being closed to the public and media, it has been hard to get a feel for what the Hogs will look like on offense going from a power spread attack to a smash-mouth offense this season.
Most of the concern by Razorback Nation is whether or not Arkansas first year offensive line coach, Sam Pittman can solidify an offensive line group led by redshirt senior, Rimington Trophy Watch finalist center Travis Swanson that played well at times a season ago during the John L. Smith 4-8 fiasco.
The ability to find an offensive line that is able to play winning football in the SEC is virtually job number one this season for the Hogs.
Another important concern for Bielema and Pittman this fall is finding quality depth at all five positions on the offensive line with backups that could play at a minute’s notice.
Bielema and Pittman may have found the glue to the future in three solid true freshmen.
Freshmen Denver Kirkland, Reeve Koehler and Dan Skipper have come into fall camp contending for immediate playing in their first season in Fayetteville.
Kirkland, a 6-foot-5, 350-pound tackle out of Miami, FL, has impressed Hog coaches this fall with his solid pass blocking and the nastiness that he brings in his run blocking as the backup right tackle behind projected starter Grady Ollison.
A prized four-star recruit out of Miami Booker T. Washington last season, Kirkland famously chose Arkansas over Florida State and Miami on ESPNU’s National Signing Day show last February. He has the thickness and strength of an All-American offensive tackle as a freshman and could start immediately if called upon after making a great impression on his head coach this month. Bielema said that Kirkland is probably the best pass protecting freshman he’s ever seen at the team’s media day last week. That’s some high praise from a coach who’s seen great NFL offensive line talents like Gabe Carimi, Travis Frederick, Ricky Wagner, Peter Konz, John Moffitt and Kevin Zeitler all come though his program as freshmen at Wisconsin.
Koehler, a 6-foot-4 340-pound guard/center from Kailua, HI, is the younger brother of former Arizona offensive lineman Solomon Koehler. Koehler is a solid 335-340 natural guard who has an explosive first step punch and can dominate if he gets good leverage and can get underneath opposing lineman with his incredible bend. Koehler looks to play backup center while also playing backup to both guard positions this season. Koehler is still learning the center position and looks to compete for the backup center and guard jobs against Luke Charpentier and Cordale Boyd in 2013.
Skipper, a 6-foot-10 305-pound tackle from Arvada, CO, is by far the tallest Razorback on the roster and possibly in the program’s history, surpassing Brett Shockley (6-foot-8) and Matt Hall (6-foot-9) who were both offensive tackles at Arkansas. Skipper, a former Tennessee commit to last season’s Volunteer offensive line coach, Pittman, reopened his recruitment last December after Derek Dooley was fired one week before the end of the 2012 regular season. When Bielema hired Pittman and former Tennessee offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney to the same positions, they both recruited Skipper to come to Fayetteville. Skipper bit the bait and committed to them one week after visits to Ohio State and Ole Miss in January.
Skipper has the height to play basketball his freshman campaign on the hardwood for Mike Anderson, but the question still remains whether or not he can use his long wingspan and flexibility to play at a low-pad level in college football. He is working his way up the Arkansas depth chart and has toiled at second team left tackle behind senior David Hurd.
Forget the training wheels with these three young freshmen; they’ve not only embodied what Pittman and Bielema want as the blueprint of their organization, rather they have positioned themselves for meaningful and immediate playing time in the hardest division in college football.