The Arkansas Razorbacks may be picked by many to finish last in the SEC west this year, but when it comes to individual honors, the Hogs are raking them in.
It should come as no surprise that the most lauded group of players on a Bret Bielema team in the preseason are the lineman. Both offensively and defensively, the big boys up front have come to define Bielema’s time at Arkansas.
From the biggest offensive line in all of football, to 3 different defensive lineman making NFL rosters in the past 2 years; The Arkansas Razorbacks and Bret Bielema have a knack for stacking the box.
The Hogs are losing 3 starters from last year’s “Biggest Offensive Line in All of Football” (#poundcake), but the returning linemen have been making watch lists and racking up the preseason awards. The biggest honor so far has gone to the Hogs returning tackle, Dan Skipper.
The most seasoned offensive lineman coming back for Arkansas, Skipper has 34 consecutive starts under his belt. He was just recently named to Athlon Sports 3rd team All-American preseason list, and was first team preseason All-SEC as well. Skipper’s size and aggressive style of play have got him in trouble on the field in the past, but the 6’10, 326 pound lineman has learned to harness his aggression and turn it into results. The big man from Colorado will have all eyes on him this season, both from the refs and the NFL scouts.
The other returning lineman from last year’s groups, Frank Ragnow, is moving positions. The gifted junior played guard all last year, but has been moved to center for this season. (We’ll see if the addition of transfer center Jake Raulerson from Texas changes that at all.) Ragnow, without ever having played a down of center at the collegiate level, has been named to the Rimington Award watch list for 2016. (Editor’s Note: As pointed out by a few fans, Ragnow played 9 games at center as a Freshman, and was an All-SEC freshman team selection. That one is on me.)
Joining Skipper on the preseason All-SEC teams is defensive lineman Deatrich Wise, who was voted as a 2nd team defensive end. Wise ended the 2015 season with 8 sacks, all of which came in conference play. He lead the team in sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and has apparently turned into an unstoppable pass rushing machine in practice.
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Three more Razorbacks garnered preseason All-SEC honors. Wide receiver Drew Morgan, who finished tied for 2nd in the conference in receiving touchdowns last year, was named a 3rd team preseason All-SEC player. Joining him on the 3rd team is fellow pass catcher Jeremy Sprinkle.
Sprinkle spent much of 2015 being overshadowed by All-American and Mackey Award winner Hunter Henry, an eventual second round draft pick. Sprinkle ended the season tied for 2nd on the team in receiving touchdowns with 6, though. Which was more than Henry had. However, Henry definitely drew more attention from defenses last year than Sprinkle did, and the Hogs took advantage of that. Now, Dan Enos and the offense have to make sure that a starring role Sprinkle can be just as productive.
Finally, senior linebacker Brooks Ellis was named a 3rd team preseason All-SEC linebacker. Ellis has struggled defending the pass in some situations, but as a run stopper and team leader, he is second to none. He lead the Hogs in tackles last year and finished tied for 9th in the conference with 102 total takedowns. He will be a crucial element of the Hogs defense this year.
Can the Razorbacks turn some heads this year and surprise the experts? If so, they’re going to need all of these preseason award winners (and some other guys as well) to really step up and deliver week in and week out.