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Coaches don't expect Hogs' line crossed

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Photographs by Andy Shupe

Arkansas offensive lineman Jake Raulerson participates in a drill during practice Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, at the football practice field on the university campus in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Circumstances compelled the Arkansas Razorbacks to start four not-ready-for-prime-time players among their five offensive line positions last season.

Entering today's scrimmage, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville Coach Bret Bielema and offensive line coach Kurt Anderson are secure about all five starters. They also believe three or four backups could step in easily this season.

Senior Frank Ragnow returns to great expectations as preseason first-team All-SEC at center.

Anderson, even as a first-year coach for Arkansas, and Bielema knew well what Ragnow could do before last season commenced.

It's last year's not-ready-for-prime-time players -- guards Hjalte Froholdt and Johnny Gibson, and tackles Colton Jackson and Brian Wallace -- who prime Bielema and Anderson into thinking their starting line is fine this season.

Gibson, a Dumas native who is now a fourth-year junior on scholarship, actually played well as a walk-on when thrust into the starting right guard role during the season's final five games.

Froholdt, who converted from defensive tackle last season, had no offensive line experience until spring 2016 before starting 13 games at left guard as a true sophomore.

Wallace, 6-6, 337 pounds, was highly touted since redshirting in 2014, but in 2015 he played only three games behind a veteran line. Initially, Wallace couldn't beat out Jackson, 6-5, 298, but he won the right tackle job four games into 2016.

Now Wallace remains at right tackle while Jackson blossoms at left tackle.

"He [Jackson] can be as dominant with his athleticism as any left tackle in this conference," Anderson said.

Not only do the coaches have full confidence in their starting five, but they foresee junior center-guard Zach Rogers, third-year sophomore guard-tackle Jalen Merrick, redshirted juco transfer tackle Paul Ramirez and senior second-year University of Texas graduate transfer Jake Raulerson spelling starters and stepping up if injuries strike.

Off his Texas experience and versatility, "Jake's our Swiss Army knife," Bielema said of Raulerson playing anywhere on the line. He started last season's first eight games, but he finished benched. What worked sometimes in the finesse Big 12 Conference didn't work for Raulerson in the more physical SEC.

Raulerson is better equipped for the SEC now but must realize it, Bielema said, estimating Raulerson, 6-4, 313, has added 20 pounds of muscle since last season.

"When he first got here, he was underdeveloped," Bielema said. "A lot of times when kids don't have confidence to play physically they try to put on a Band-Aid and revert to some things to survive.

"Last Saturday [in the full-scale scrimmage] I saw him revert. So all week I've been hammering him: 'Listen, bro, you've got great strength. You put on 20 pounds. Use them. You don't have to put a Band-Aid on this anymore.' "

Sports on 08/12/2017

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