FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas offensive line coach Kurt Anderson walked into the interview room after Wednesday’s practice and reporters gathered around him, preparing to ask about the starting group that had apparently been decided.
One reporter began, “Looks like you guys finally got a starting five settled …”
Yes, even though head coach Bret Bielema essentially announced that his starting offensive line was settled — left tackle Dan Skipper, left guard Hjalte Froholdt, center Frank Ragnow, right guard Jake Raulerson and right tackle Colton Jackson — Anderson made it clear Wednesday that he wouldn’t confirm anything.
“Hey, listen,” he said, “I don’t want them to know anything. So we might; we might not. You never know. … But yes, for the last few days, since right before the scrimmage, it’s been the same five going forward.”
The first-year O-line coach said that redshirt freshman Jalen Merrick was close to returning from the concussion protocol, and that junior college transfer Paul Ramirez had also been a little banged up and was nearing a return.
Anderson had joked a week earlier that he didn’t want his starting unit to become public knowledge to keep Louisiana Tech — the Hogs’ first 2016 opponent — on its heels. But he admitted Wednesday that more than anything, he doesn’t want the apparent starters becoming complacent.
That especially goes for the guys on the right side of the line, as Skipper, Froholdt and Ragnow effectively clinched their starting spots weeks ago.
“I want our offensive line guys here at Arkansas to prepare like they’re going to be the starter, and I don’t want this competition to end,” Anderson said. “Because it brings out the best in them.
“You don’t want them to feel settled in terms of, ‘Ooooh, relax, I’m the starter.’ I want them to feel like this is it by default because some guys are banged up, and when these guys come back, they’re going to press you for your job.
“I want them looking to see the injury report, the depth chart and who’s in full pads. Look at it every single day and go, ‘Oh, shoot, he’s back. I’ve got to make sure I’ve prepared to the umpteenth degree because this guy’s coming to take my job.’
“That’s only going to make us a better line and a better football team.”