Arkansas’ offensive line looking strong so far


FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks have identified three starters for their offensive line this spring.

Dan Skipper is growing into the role at left tackle. Brey Cook has been solid on the other side. And Denver Kirkland, while needing to get in better shape after a winter setback, has continued to show he’ll be a mainstay at right guard next season.

“I feel pretty good about those positions,” Bielema said Saturday. “But I think left guard and center are wide open for people that want to take advantage of it.”

Arkansas capped its fourth week of spring drills Saturday, going through a practice that included some non-tackling situational scrimmage work. The Razorbacks also showed a new combination with the first-team offense at center and left guard.

Junior Mitch Smothers worked with the offense at center, while senior Luke Charpentier lined up at left guard. It was another sign the Razorbacks are still searching for the right duo at the positions to complete the starting line.

Smothers is one of three players who has worked with the first-team offense at center this spring, joining Charpentier and Cordale Boyd. Charpentier is the fourth player to line up at first-team left guard (Smothers, Boyd and Grady Ollison).

“We have to figure out who’s going to play left guard and who’s going to play center for us,” Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman said earlier in the week.

Charpentier opened the spring as Arkansas’ first-team center and appeared to be the player to replace Travis Swanson, who started four straight seasons. But Bielema said last week Charpentier and Smothers would compete for the first-team job the rest of the spring. Smothers was in the starting role Saturday.

Charpentier, who has played guard in his career, didn’t go far, though.

He lined up next to Skipper on the left side of Arkansas’ offensive line Saturday.

The same shuffling has taken place at left guard. Ollison opened the spring with the first-team group, but has bounced up and down the depth chart. He began last week’s scrimmage with the starters, but was with the second-team Saturday.

“Every day after practice the coaches evaluate film, but right now that position is pretty much up for grabs,” said Ollison, who said he didn’t feel good about his performance last Saturday. “It’s up to the coaches at the end of the day.”

Arkansas is trying to retool an offensive line that enjoyed success last season even though the Razorbacks struggled. The group was able to open holes for running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. It also surrendered just eight sacks.

Swanson and left tackle David Hurd are preparing for the NFL Draft this spring, though. So Arkansas moved Skipper from guard to left tackle, leaving only two starters — Kirkland and Cook — working in the same spots this spring.

The line has endured some issues with the new look in both the run game and pass protection. Pittman said his group was at fault for the number of sacks surrendered by the offense during the first scrimmage on April 5. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said there was improvement last Saturday, but the Razorbacks continue to look for the right fit at left guard and center with three practices remaining.

The competition will likely continue into preseason camp with only three practices remaining this spring. Bielema indicated it will include signees like junior college prospect Sebastian Tretola and Minnesota native Frank Ragnow as Arkansas tries to find two starters to team with Cook, Skipper and Kirkland.

“We shuffled some guys around in the offensive line obviously at center trying to find our best combination there,” Bielema said after Saturday’s practice. “We will have a couple of guys audition for that spot in the fall as well between a couple of recruits. We’re trying to find the best matchup there.”