Colton Jackson was projected as Arkansas’ starting left tackle coming out of last spring. But back surgery had sidelined the junior from Conway until last week when he returned to practice on a limited basis. Tuesday Jackson had shown his coaches enough to be listed as the backup at left tackle behind true freshman Noah Gatlin, who started against Colorado State in the absence of Shane Clenin.
Nobody was happier than center Hjalte Froholdt who told reporters afterward, “A player like Colton, an experienced veteran who knows what he’s doing, who knows where he’s supposed to be at all times, it’s extremely comforting, I guess you could say, to know that he’s coming back on the left side.”
How soon Jackson can claim the starting spot at left tackle is anyone’s guess but what once was considered the weak spot on the D-Line is looking a lot better, especially after Gatlin surprised his coaches in his first start as a collegiate player.
“Going into the game I was a little concerned with that,” offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said of the decision to start Gatlin. “Being his first time to start a game at this level and he handled it extremely well. He did a great job for us. Had a couple of missed assignments here and there but he did a really, really good job for us.”
Gatlin said he dismissed from his mind the fact that he was playing in his first game as a Razorback and approached it as if he were a veteran player. He also gave Jackson a lot of credit for helping him to get ready to start.
“He’s a great mentor for me,” Gatlin said of Jackson. “I’ve learned a ton from Colton and just getting to learn from him has helped my game out tremendously.”
Getting Jackson back has also helped solve a dicey situation at center where Froholdt has been working without much backup. With Clenin back on the practice field and full go on Tuesday, O-line coach Dustin Fry promptly moved him to center where he had worked the previous spring and in the early part of fall camp. Froholdt welcomed the move with open arms.
“We can’t just put three guys at left tackle and then have one center going,” Froholdt reasoned. “We need more centers to make sure if, knock on wood, If I go down we need to have other guys who can snap the ball and get us through a game.”
“He’s been all over the board,” Froholdt said of Clenin. “He has a very versatile body. He’s six-five, three hundred to three-ten. He’s quick. He’s fast. I think he had a phenomenal practice. He was low off the ball. He knew where he was going. The snap was good. He did a really good job.”
It will be Saturday before the effect of these changes can be evaluated but the Hogs’ injury plagued offensive line is looking a lot healthier heading into the North Texas game.