FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas center Travis Swanson enters the 2013 season with an impressive streak intact. He has started all 38 games of his college career.
The senior has been a mainstay on the offensive line since being plugged into the first-team unit as a redshirt freshman. He snapped to quarterback Ryan Mallett in 2010, Tyler Wilson in 2011 and 2012, and is preparing to lead an offense introducing a new starter, Brandon Allen, when the season began.
But what happens if the senior, who has been tabbed as one of Arkansas’ most important players, isn’t on the field? Arkansas got a look during its first scrimmage last Saturday when Swanson was sidelined by a groin injury and the coaching staff applauded backup center Luke Charpentier for his performance.
“He was incredible and did a great job,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. “Obviously a lot of things he can correct but some really good, things from him.”
The Razorbacks are trying to solidify its starting unit this preseason as it inches closer to the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette on Aug. 31. But another important element during preseason practice is building depth along the offensive front, finding capable reserves who are ready when pressed into action.
Charpentier — a junior — showed signs that Arkansas wouldn’t implode if its starting center was out with injuries. The Louisiana native shrugged off the scrimmage performance, though, saying filling in is simply his job.
“If something happens with Swanson I’ve got to come in and make it seem like nothing ever happened,” Charpentier said. “Me and him are the same person. We can both run the offense and it’s not an easy offense to run.”
Charpentier didn’t appear to have much trouble, teaming with Brey Cook, Mitch Smothers, Grady Ollison and David Hurd to put together a solid scrimmage.
Arkansas still has plenty of room to grown in pass protection and run blocking, but continued to show signs of progress since the coaching staff arrived last spring.
Swanson watched from the sideline while Charpentier worked well with Allen, who completed 16 of 17 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown. There were no botched center exchanges when the first-team offense was on the field. Charpentier also guessed before watching film he only made one assignment error.
“One goes down you are going to have to have another one ready,” Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman said. “I was pleased how he handled the huddle and how he handled his calls and that he got us on the right people and no ball on the ground. He went there in like the veteran like he is.”
Charpentier is entering his fourth season with the program. The 6-foot-4, 318-pound offensive lineman has played in 15 games during his career, working largely behind the scenes as a reserve and on special teams.
He did earn one start at guard in 2012, playing in place of Tyler Deacon. But it was simply a one-game stint. While he’s in a reserve role once again this preseason, Charpentier said he takes plenty of pride in his work as Swanson’s backup.
“Swanson is one of the best centers in the country and to back up somebody like that is a great feeling,” Charpentier said. “For me to go in there (Saturday) and all the coaches tell me I did a great job and they were really happy with a the way I ran the offense means a lot to me. The ball never got on the ground and we didn’t have any pre-snap penalties. … It was a great experience.”
It won’t be long until Charpentier returns to the second-team offense because Swanson said his absence for Saturday’s scrimmage was more for “precautionary” reasons and should return soon. But the Razorbacks said the veteran’s minor injury proved to be valuable because it tested their backup center in a starting role.
“Luke jumped in there we did very well,” Arkansas guard Brey Cook said.