This is the first installment in a four-part series previewing Arkansas' spring football practice. In today's installment, Hogwired.com takes a brief overview before examining the Razorbacks' offensive line and tight ends.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- A casual observer might have a hard time understanding the optimism surrounding the Razorback football program this spring. After all, the Hogs have struggled in each of the past two seasons posting back-to-back losing records and missing postseason play after reeling off a school record six bowl game appearances in a row (1998-2003).
But since the Razorbacks were officially eliminated from 2005 bowl contention last November,
Add to the mix that the Razorbacks return 52 of 66 lettermen from last year’s squad including 19 of 22 starters on offense and defense, the most of any SEC school, and you start to get the idea. The momentum of a late-season surge, returning starters at nearly every key position and the promise of a nationally lauded recruiting class have Razorback fans already anticipating what could be for the Hogs in 2006.
“The first thing is that I want to continue the way we finished,” Nutt said. “We want to have great intensity and a great understanding of what we are trying to get done, especially defensively. I want them to pick up right where they left off with Coach (Reggie) Herring’s scheme. Offensively, I want to continue to be physical, still be able to run the football. We have been the best at that. But we want to get better in the passing game. In the spring, we will be looking for a much better passing game.”
“I think spring practice is very important for chemistry,” Nutt said. “It is an important time for teaching and everyone working together. This is the first time this group of coaches and players has been on the field together. I know they will be getting the feel for each other with Coach (Alex) Wood and Coach (Gus) Malzahn both being brand new. I think they are going to get a real good feel for their ideas. We will incorporate them and the bottom line is we need to execute.”
Mathematically it would seem impossible for the Razorbacks to lose their starting center to graduation and still return five starters on the offensive line. However,
Tubbs, injured for a majority of the 2005 season, played in only one game before undergoing surgery on his ankle. The second-team pre-season All-SEC tackle from last season played offensive guard briefly last fall, but will enter the spring as the starter at right tackle. Tubbs has shown the potential to be one of the best tackles in the SEC if he can stay on the field. Junior Nate Garner and redshirt freshman Michael Aguirre will vie for time behind Tubbs on the Hogs’ offensive front. Garner has played in 16 games as a reserve in his Razorback career while Aguirre has yet to take the field for the Hogs.
Senior Tony Ugoh is slated to man the left tackle spot for the third-consecutive season. Ugoh has started 21 of the Razorbacks’ last 22 games at the position. He led the Hogs with 64 knockdowns in 2005. The two-sport athlete will balance spring football drills while competing with the Razorbacks’ outdoor track and field squad. Sophomore Jose Valdez will back Ugoh while redshirt freshman Andrew Davie will also work on the left side.
With the graduation of stalwart Kyle Roper, Luigs enters spring practice as the Razorbacks’ starting center. The transition actually took place late last season. Luigs started a total of 10 games in 2005 including seven at offensive guard before being called upon to start for Roper at center against Louisiana-Monroe and
Luigs was impressive in his freshman season earning the season’s best run blocking grade by a UA lineman and finishing second on the squad with 53 knockdown blocks. For his efforts, Luigs was named to several freshman All-America squads including teams named by the Football Writers Association of America and CollegeFootballNews.com.
Former defensive tackle Jeremy Harrell made the conversion to offense midway through the 2005 campaign and contributed down the stretch at offensive guard. In 2006, Harrell will try his hand at center in addition to retaining his reserve offensive guard duties. Harrell started the 2005 season opener at defensive tackle and concluded the campaign with consecutive starts at right guard. Senior Tyler Morgan will compete with Harrell for reserve snaps at center. Morgan will likely have to wait until fall to stake his claim on playing time as he will be sidelined for a majority of spring practice while rehabilitating from a back injury.
Senior Chase Pressley earned limited snaps at offensive guard last season, but did make a start against Louisiana-Monroe. Redshirt freshman Colin Tucker will make his first run at playing time as a reserve at left guard.
Junior Robert Felton is a returning starter as well, albeit at a new position. With injuries to both Tubbs and Ugoh, Felton was moved to right tackle for the end of the 2004 season and the entire 2005 campaign. Felton is now back at his old position and has the inside track on the starting nod at right guard. The
Sophomore Mitch Petrus was a pleasant surprise on the offensive line last season. Petrus played in nine games for the Razorbacks as a true freshman including an extended stint against
In recent seasons, the Hogs have certainly utilized the tight ends successfully in the running game. However,
Senior Wes Murphy heads the list of returners at tight end. Murphy struggled with injuries at times in 2005, but still managed to play in eight games earning the start in five contests. He made one catch for 17 yards, but was a key blocker on the edge for the Razorbacks’ running game.
Junior Mason Templeton has been the most consistent presence at tight end during the past two seasons. Templeton was the only UA tight end to play in all 11 games last season. He hauled in three catches for 33 yards and continued to develop his blocking skills in 2005. He will compete with Murphy for the starting job and will see significant snaps in the Razorbacks’ two tight-end sets even if he doesn’t claim the starting nod.
Sophomores Marc Winston and Lance Thompson have game experience and will likely be included in the tight-end rotation again this fall. Winston played in five games in his first collegiate season in 2005 while Thompson appeared in four games.