Spring practice is just a week away, kicking off Tuesday, March 30. This is part two of an ongoing series leading up to the spring practice kickoff in which we highlight each position's depth chart and the battles for starting roles in the spring.
In 2008 (Bobby Petrino's first year at Arkansas) the offensive line struggled more than their fair share. They finished one spot out of dead last in the nation in sacks allowed.
Last year was a much better season for the offensive line, but they still showed areas of weakness in transitioning to a much more complex run-and-pass blocking scheme under Bobby Petrino (rather than just the power run blocking they previously learned under Houston Nutt).
Year three under Petrino looks to be stacked with competition for offensive line positions, and each lineman expected to compete for starting positions has had at least two years on campus in Petrino's system (the majority have been with Petrino all three years).
Arkansas returns four out of their five starting offensive lineman and all their TE's from last year's team (I will highlight TE in-depth when I cover WRs). However, the Razorbacks did lose starting tackle Mitch Petrus.
Petrino joked that we return four out of five, but it feels like four out of six with the loss of Petrus. Petrus is expected to be as early as a second-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Just a few weeks ago on Arkansas' Pro Day Petrus spoke about how Petrino truly prepared him for the NFL combines, and how he is a first-class coach.
With that said, my overall expectations for the Razorbacks' 2010 offensive line are very high. Petrino did have to make an unexpected change this offseason and hire new offensive line coach Chris Klenakis when previous offensive line coach Mike Summers chose to take the same job at Kentucky and return to his home state. Klenakis and Petrino have coached together previously, and so there should be little to no negative impact on the offensive line.
In fact, the offensive line could make a large jump in productivity in 2010—especially in the running game.
Klenakis, or "Coach K" as everyone calls him, is an authority on the "pistol" formation. At Nevada he innovated the use of this formation to lead the nation in rushing and produce the NCAA's first three 1,000 yard single-season rushers.
The pistol or "shot," as Petrino likes to call the formation, has already been implemented at Arkansas. So Coach K will just come in and add new wrinkles and improve how the Hogs use the formation.
The shot is expected to give the Arkansas running game a shot in the arm in 2010 and allow them to reach the high expectations of being an SEC title contender. For this to happen it all starts up front with the big uglies of the offensive line. The O-line will also be responsible for protecting Heisman hopeful Ryan Mallett (out for the spring with a broken foot) and allowing the Razorbacks' top SEC squad of receivers to get downfield and make plays.
With all that said, let's get into the offensive line depth chart so everyone can get better acquainted with the experience Arkansas has down the line, and the battles to look out for this spring.
Each offensive lineman will appear in the order they appeared on the latest depth chart. Petrino does not have a LT, LG, RG, or RT because he moves lineman around to strong and weak sides for different formations. So one set of battling offensive tackles will be labeled OT1 and the other OT2, and the same for offensive guards OG1 and OG2.
OT 1 :
Ray Dominguez (Sr., 6'4", 329 lbs.)
Dominguez has seen his ups and downs as an Arkansas Razorback. In 2009, Dominguez progressed in his second season under Petrino's new blocking scheme, and as a senior in 2010 he will be expected to help lead the offensive line.
Anthony Oden (Soph., 6'8", 328 lbs.)
Oden is the younger brother of Portland Trailblazers star Greg Oden. In 2009, Oden got some very good experience on the offensive line, and even started a game or two. However, he did not show the consistency needed to become a full-time starter.
In the recent media conference discussing the depth chart, Petrino listed Oden as a player that wants playing time very much and that is having an offseason that should make things interesting in the spring.
Oden should be pushing the senior Dominguez all year for playing time, and that is a very good problem to have on the O-line. Luckily this is a situation/trend that you will see is occurring at every position down the offensive line.
Grant Cook (Jr., 6'4", 322 lbs.)
Grant Cook was a highly sought after recruit for the 2007 recruiting class. He came to Arkansas under the Nutt regime, but he has transitioned as well as anyone into the tough go-all-about-your-business approach of Petrino.
Petrino is very high on Cook because of his strength and athleticism, but also the way he goes about his work and practice. Cook does, however, have a future All-SEC lineman right on his tail.
Alvin Bailey (Fr., 6'5", 323 lbs.)
As a freshman last season, Alvin Bailey was the toughest decision to redshirt of any player for Bobby Petrino. Bailey was ready to play in 2009.
However, Petrino feels using the redshirt and allowing him four more years to get more playing time was the best decision to make. Bailey is a monster of an offensive lineman who was one of the strongest Hogs immediately upon stepping foot on campus.
He reportedly pushes around weight that will have NFL Scouts "ooh"-ing and "ahh"-ing all over him.
Bailey is making a strong push for playing time, and is yet another great example of how Petrino has quickly developed a deep depth chart across the roster for the Razorbacks in a short period of time.
Seth Oxner (Jr., 6'4", 315 lbs.)
Last year Seth Oxner battled with Wade Grayson most of the preseason for the center position, and there could still be a lot of shifts on the OL with the talent on the depth chart and finding the best fit for players under Petrino and Coach K.
There will not be much competition at this center position, however. The backup, if the depth chart remains in the fall as it is now, is a freshman who Petrino likes very much but who needs to build upper body strength.
Travis Swanson (Fr., 6'5", 305 lbs.)
Swanson was an all-metro star offensive lineman in his area of Texas coming out of high school. Since arriving on campus, he has impressed coaches with his intelligence and work ethic.
The area where Swanson still has much ground to improve is in his upper body strength, which for most offensive lineman is a two-year process when moving up to college from high school. He is a capable backup, but if Oxner were to be injured it is just as likely that OG Wade Grayson, who has a ton of experience battling it out at center with Oxner, could be moved back to center.
Wade Grayson (Sr., 6'4", 302 lbs.)
As mentioned above, Grayson has experience at center as well as experience at guard. He has been one of many lineman that has allowed Petrino and his staff to move him around in search of a best fit since his arrival on campus.
One thing that is for certain about Grayson is he plays nasty and gives it everything he has on every down. He is going to be pushed for playing time by another talented senior who has only been with the Razorbacks for one year.
Zhamal Thomas (Sr., 6'5", 343 lbs.)
Zhamal Thomas has had an interesting collegiate career. Out of high school he was a highly-touted lineman that signed to play with LSU. He encountered some disciplinary problems at LSU and left the team to play JUCO ball.
Petrino liked what he saw from Thomas enough to sign him onto the Razorbacks' 2009 class, and Thomas came to the Hogs eager to play.
This is the last chance for Thomas to reach the great potential everyone has seen in him since he was a high schooler, so I expect to see him give it his best shot. He has the size and speed that makes NFL Scouts' jaws drop but he has to get on the field to show that he can get everyone to click.
DeMarcus Love (Sr., 6'5", 315 lbs.)
DeMarcus Love continues the trend of senior leadership on the offensive line. Love has had some moments where he has struggled in Petrino's scheme, but as a leader he is top-notch.
In his final season I expect to see Love push his leadership to new limits, and to do his best to fill the shoes of departed Mitch Petrus as the vocal leader on the offensive line.
Grant Freeman (Jr., 6'7", 298 lbs.)
Freeman has made contributions in his time at Arkansas, and in 2010 I expect him to get quality time on the offensive line as Petrino begins to be able to flex the depth he has built on the OL.
Freeman is the only OL that tips the scales at under 300 lbs. according to the latest depth chart, but he is mammoth in stature as the second tallest OL behind Oden.
This offensive line is the deepest Arkansas has had in quite some time, and possibly the most versatile and talented, with many having experience at multiple positions on the line.
This spring, with Mallett out, the O-line will have the distinct opportunity to be at the center of the coaches' scrutiny, and one of the most watched positions by the media. How they improve in the complex pro-style blocking schemes under Petrino will be under the microscope.
Will the veterans on the line be able to hold off upcoming young stars as they push the competition?
Razorback fans will certainly have their eyes on this position all spring, and leading up to the fall. The offensive line's play in 2010 will likely mean the difference between another good season like 2009, or a great one ending in a BCS bowl game.
Next up on the Arkansas Razorback Football Spring Practice Preview:Wide Receivers
This article was written by Blake Stansbery of Born Hog Wild.
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