FAYETTEVILLE — Mike Summers still yells. His face still turns red. He still glares through the frames of his glasses with an intensity that can frighten any 300-pound center, guard or tackle.
But Arkansas’ new offensive line coach picks his spots. He isn’t overly quick to criticize, holler or embarrass, and his discretion has swiftly earned him the respect of his new pupils.
“He’s really been calm and collected with us,” senior center Jonathan Luigs said. “He knows it’s going to be a long transition because we’re not used to the new schemes and everything yet. Sure, he tells us when we mess up, and he yells at us when he needs to. But he’s really been understanding of the process we’re going through.”
That process has consumed the Razorbacks’ offensive linemen since Arkansas hired first-year coach Bobby Petrino. Along with Petrino came a drastic shift in offensive philosophy. In recent years, Arkansas has ranked near the top nationally in rushing offense and near the bottom in passing offense.
Petrino’s aim is to rank high in both categories. So the Hogs’ linemen, well-schooled in the art of run blocking, faced the daunting task of learning how to pass-block just as effectively. Not the easiest challenge, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said.
“They didn’t throw much drop-back pass (here),” Paul Petrino said. “That’s the biggest difference. They mainly had one (pass) protection. ... It’s like ‘the sky is blue or the sky is green’ different (now).”
Summers began back in the spring by starting “at zero” with terminology and technique. He said Arkansas’ coaching staff didn’t assume anything and treated seniors the same as they did sophomores. Progress has been steady but slow, Summers said.
Luigs said the intricacies of pass blocking have frustrated the linemen at times.
“It’s a complete makeover to be honest,” Luigs said. “It’s been good, though. We’ve had our ups and downs. We just have to be more consistent. Some days we’ll come out here and really look like a great offensive line, and other days we’ll come out here and look like the Bad News Bears.”
Summers said the technical part of the linemen’s pass-blocking crash course has provided the toughest test. The linemen must master the keys of pass-blocking — “be quick, get your hands up, get them away from your body,” senior tackle Jose Valdez said. But they also must conquer the differences between blocking for 3-step, 5-step and 7-step drops by the quarterback.
Valdez said the most glaring change this season centers around the size of Arkansas’ playbook. “It’s expanded a lot,” Valdez says, shaking his head while laughing.
“With Coach Nutt, we did learn a lot. But it was nothing like this,” Valdez said. “This is an NFL-style offense. Coach Nutt did have his passes and everything in that offense. But this offense is so much more.”
So much so that Valdez couldn’t handle the scope of it back in the spring. Summers demoted Valdez to the second team when the 6-foot-5 senior struggled to keep pace in the meeting room and on the field. He told Valdez that he “needed to earn his spot,” that it wouldn’t simply be handed to him.
That message resonated with the entire offensive line and carried over to the summer and fall.
“I got into my book really hard,” Valdez said. “I had to do it. Everybody’s doing it now. There’s so much to learn. You can’t fall behind.”
BREAKING THEM DOWN
Offensive Line At A Glance
Sure Thing: Look no further than senior Jonathan Luigs, the winner of last season’s Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center. Luigs was named a first-team all-American by Walter Camp, FWAA, The Sporting News, Rivals, CBSSports.com, CollegeFootballNews.com and Phil Steele College Football.
Big Question: Can the Razorbacks adjust to a new system? In years past, under former coach Houston Nutt and former offensive line coach Mike Markuson, Arkansas’ linemen didn’t deal much with pass blocking. That’s a different story now. Coach Bobby Petrino’s offense is balanced and requires far more pass blocking.
Top Newcomer: True freshman tackle Matt Hall will likely redshirt, but the 6-foot-9 Russellville native has turned heads at fall camp. Newcomers aren’t necessarily needed, though, as the Razorbacks bring back a lot of experience on the offensive line. Luigs and fellow seniors Mitch Petrus and Jose Valdez return as starters.
Quotable: “It has kind of been fun actually. It’s frustrating whenever they sack the quarterback or when we get yelled at. But it’s been a fun change as far as having some new experiences. It makes practices a lot more interesting.” — Luigs on the learning process under new line coach Mike Summers.