FAYETTEVILLE - Last spring, the Arkansas Razorbacks coaches kept trying to convince Colton Jackson he was ready for prime time.
This spring, Jackson does the convincing. Outside of senior All-American candidate center Frank Ragnow, no Razorback offensive lineman this spring has drawn more praise than Jackson, the 6-6, 304 third-year sophomore left tackle from Conway.
“Colton Jackson has been as good as I’ve seen him,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos said. “ He’s taken huge steps this spring.”
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema has consistently praised Jackson from the winter offseason conditioning program through the first day of spring drills and beyond.
“Colton Jackson who started at right tackle a year ago, moving him to left he’s had a really good winter and a really good spring,” Bielema said after the first spring practice.”
After the sixth one, last Saturday’s scrimmage, Bielema said, “Colton’s got light feet. I think he took a step forward this winter. He’s a kid that’s got a lot of ability and I think he just needs confidence. Today I saw that begin to happen. He’s a guy all spring we’re going to continue to press.”
Jackson likely takes his big steps this spring from the School of Hard Knocks getting knocked back several pegs last season.
Last year redshirt freshman Jackson at right tackle and then true sophomore left guard Hjalte Froholdt, Denmark born and not playing American football until he was a high school exchange student and lettering as a 2015 freshman on Arkansas’ defensive line, because of lack of depth were cast into SEC starting linemen, roles that normally years apprenticing.
The results were like you would expect. Froholdt struggled all season. By midseason, Jackson lost his starting job to then third-year sophomore Brian Wallace.
Thereafter Jackson practiced at both backup tackles and backup guard. He never started again but he never sulked.
“You just have got to go into it with a positive attitude,” Jackson said. “Of course on the front end I was mad about it. Nobody wants their spot taken. You just have got to take it and learn. I was a redshirt freshman. I couldn’t be that mad about it. I just had to take it and learn from it.”
The better tackle had moved ahead, Jackson said.
“You’ve got to understand when somebody can do the job better than you it’s a team thing,” Jackson said. “It’s not just being selfish. Brian stepped up and did better in spots that I couldn’t do. I took that time to get better at those spots and came forward into the spring.”
Really forward, starting at the left tackle that 2016 graduated senior tackle Dan Skipper played last year while Wallace remains at starting right tackle. This time he feels comfortable earning a first-team position rather than thrust upon him. He believes his teammates are comfortable with that, too.
“ I feel a lot more comfortable,” Jackson said. “Especially around Frank and Hjalte. We hang out off the field all the time. So it feels normal.”
“My understanding of the offense, the plays, all the stuff inside-out,” Jackson of knowing this spring what in retrospect he says he didn’t entirely grasp last spring. “Just a better understanding of what needs to get done and the expectations that I didn’t get last year.”
Just last year watching Skipper, now auditioning for the NFL draft, and a full year with spring 2016 hired offensive line coach Kurt Anderson helps, too.
“I watched what he (Skipper) does and how he prepares for games and practice every day and what he does off the field,” Jackson said. “His pregame. His pre-practice preparations, all that. I took notes off it.”
No doubt Anderson coaching him like he’s ready for prime rather than last year’s wishing and willing him to be prime time has improved his game.
“It’s a lot easier playing and getting to know coach Anderson,” Jackson said. “Just like it’s all comfortable.”
“He’s very athletic, he’s very smart,” Anderson said. “He’s really taken a big step forward in terms of his accountability out on the field being more vocal. I think he has a lot more confidence in the technique and what he’s being asked to do. I really think he gained a lot strength, too. He’s about 303. Last year he was in the 290s, so that’s helped him but he hasn’t lost a step. He’s getting off on the ball and He’s using his hands. I really like where he’s at.”