FAYETTEVILLE — Offensive lineman Cameron Jefferson knew it would take some time to make the transition to Arkansas’ system.
It was inevitable after spending four years at another program.
There are fundamental changes between the spread offense he played in at UNLV and the pro-style system employed at Arkansas. There were new coaches to adjust to with different techniques taught on a daily basis. So even though Jefferson was a three-year starter, he wasn’t expecting a miracle in his opening week at Arkansas.
“The first week was definitely a battle getting everything down,” Jefferson said.
But Jefferson also didn’t leave a starting position at UNLV to watch the Razorbacks play from the sideline this season. So his goal for preseason camp is clear: earn a starting spot in time for Arkansas’ season opener at Auburn on Aug. 30.
Time will tell if Jefferson accomplishes it, but there’s no doubt he has at least made an impression on the Razorbacks after his first week of camp.
The UNLV transfer is competing with senior Luke Charpentier for the starting job at left guard. Charpentier continues to hold the first-team spot, but offensive line coach Sam Pittman said Jefferson’s talent is clear as the second week rolls on.
“The techniques that we use and we teach are different than what he did, and obviously he was successful at his other program,” Pittman said. “But the things we’re asking him to do … the next time he may do it perfect. It won’t take him long to adjust to the techniques that we’re using. So he’s very talented, very athletic, very smart, and we’re really proud he’s here. He’s going to help us this year.”
That was Arkansas’ hope when Jefferson decided to transfer to Arkansas.
He became available after UNLV was given a postseason bowl ban because of Academic Progress Rate penalties. It allowed players whose eligibility would expire under the bowl ban to transfer elsewhere and have immediate eligibility.
Arkansas looked at UNLV’s roster and targeted the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Jefferson, believing the addition of a three-year starter for its offensive line was too valuable to miss. Jefferson, meanwhile, jumped at the chance to play in the SEC.
“There’s talent everywhere,” Jefferson said of the conference. “Everybody is All-American, all this, all that. It’s a fight every week, not just every other week like in the Mountain West. Not down on the Mountain West, but the talent isn’t as spread out as it is in the SEC. So you’ve got to bring your lunch pail every week in the SEC.”
Jefferson, whose father William played in the NFL, arrived just in time for the Razorbacks to report for camp. His late arrival didn’t concern the Razorbacks. In fact, coach Bret Bielema knew Jefferson would fit in and adapt quickly.
“As a head coach I take a lot of caution and lot of yield when I’m bringing in someone who is not a freshman because, in theory, you’re bringing in someone who’s going to directly compete with an upperclassman for a position,” Bielema said of adding the fifth-year senior to the roster. “You have to make sure they fit in every way that you can imagine whether it be physically in the design of what we want, schematically in the design of what we want and the personality and demeanor.”
Pittman said the Razorbacks believe they have “a special guy” in Jefferson.
Jefferson’s leadership skills already have been valuable as he works with a second-team offensive line that includes three other newcomers — Tretola, right tackle Brian Wallace and center Frank Ragnow — this week.
“I don’t know what he’s planning on doing after he gets out of grad school, but whatever it is, whether he goes to the NFL or whatever, he’s going to be successful,” Pittman said. “The kid’s just got ‘it.’ I knew bringing him into this group that no matter what happens, whether he starts, whether he doesn’t, whether he plays half the time, that’s to be determined by him, but know his presence in the locker room and presence on the field is going to help us because of the young man that he is.”
Jefferson has concentrated on left guard in his first few practices, but Bielema and Pittman both said he’s a candidate to help with depth at left tackle as well. Jefferson is taking snaps during early practice drills, too, getting a feel for a new position.
The Razorbacks don’t want to overload Jefferson as he makes the adjustment, although Pittman said the senior learns quickly. But will it be quick enough to earn a starting job when Arkansas travels to Auburn?
That question hasn’t been answered for now.
Jefferson said his only goal is to improve with each snap and every practice.
“I feel like I’m getting to that point,” Jefferson said. “I definitely want to be starting by Aug. 30. But if I’m not starting I’m going to get better regardless either way.”