This is the first in an eight-part, position-by-position series previewing the 2012 Razorbacks.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas offensive lineman David Hurd didn’t know what to expect when he was summoned into John L. Smith’s office this summer.
The walk-on didn’t exactly know what happened, either, after Smith put a piece of paper in front of him, told him to sign it, then offered his congratulations.
It wasn’t until he called teammate Tyler Deacon — a former walk-on who earned a scholarship before the 2011 season — that Hurd finally received some clarity.
“I asked him what the scholarship papers looked like,” Hurd said. “He said it’s just a piece of paper that says financial aid at the top. I said, ‘Oh my God I think I just signed it.’ … I think I’m on scholarship now.’”
Hurd, a junior from West Monroe, La., is indeed one of Arkansas’ scholarship players entering the 2012 season after being added to the list in late June. But there’s more to it than that as preseason camp continues. He’s also a first-team offensive lineman, using a strong spring and summer to emerge as one of Arkansas’ camp surprises.
He and Deacon have held down the quick side of Arkansas’ offensive line, working together as tackle and guard, respectively, through the first two weeks of preseason drills. If they hold onto the spots the rest of the preseason they’ll enter the season next to each other as starters, which is an impressive feat for former walk-ons.
The significance isn’t lost on either of them.
“This is everything,” Hurd said earlier this week. “It’s everything I hoped it could be and everything I dreamed of. I always wanted to play and start here.
“Now I’m getting the opportunity and it’s great.”
Deacon knows exactly how Hurd felt this summer after finally realizing he was on scholarship. He went through the same thing last fall, when former coach Bobby Petrino awarded him with a scholarship before Arkansas’ first game.
The Little Rock native, who dreamed of playing for the Razorbacks like many in-state kids, toiled away as a walk-on his first three seasons on campus. He contributed on special teams in 11 games last season. Now, with Grant Cook trying to work his way onto the Minnesota Vikings roster, Deacon is with the starters.
“I know my hard work is showing off,” Deacon said. “It’s being rewarded. Getting to be in a group of guys like (former Razorback Mitch) Petrus and (Brandon) Burlsworth — walk-ons that earned scholarships — it’s just awesome.”
It remains to be seen how well both players hold up at their positions.
The 6-foot-6, 300-pound Hurd, who has appeared in two games in three years, is regarded as a strong pass protector who needs work in the run game. Deacon is the smallest member of a starting group that includes juniors Travis Swanson (6-5, 305) and Alvin Bailey (6-5, 312) and sophomore Brey Cook (6-7, 308).
But quarterback Tyler Wilson said the two do have one important trait.
“You can trust both of those guys,” Wilson said. “I think that, as a quarterback is what you like. If you can trust somebody … That’s what it is all about.”
Arkansas offensive line coach Chris Klenakis said it’s because both arrived on campus with no promise of playing time. But both were willing to work.
“The term I like to use is program guys,” Klenakis said. “They’re guys who come into your program that work, have gotten stronger, have gotten better, have become technicians and students of the game. And just work hard and made themselves into players. That’s what I’ve been known for as a coach is developing guys and taking a guy and developing him through a four- or five-year process.”
The similar path has helped Deacon and Hurd share a common bond in their three years on campus. They work side-by-side on the offensive line. Their lockers are next to each other. They also spend time together off the field.
The two came to Arkansas as walk-ons, but are scholarship players now. They’re starters, too, as the season approaches. But neither is taking anything for granted.
“It’s a job interview every single day,” Hurd said. “So I’m trying to just keep it. I feel like I earned it, but I want to make sure I keep it.”
A Closer Look At … OFFENSIVE LINE
Best of the Bunch: C Travis Swanson — Tyler Wilson stands as the most important figure on Arkansas’ high-powered offense. But Swanson should be in the conversation for No. 2 in importance. The veteran center is entering his third season as a starter and is one of the best at his position. What does Arkansas think of him? The coaching staff – which thrives on competition and isn’t afraid to shake up the depth chart to get results (see guard Alvin Bailey) – basically said no one is challenging Swanson for the starting job at center before preseason practice began.
Watch Out For: T Brey Cook — Cook was a reserve guard last season, but has moved out to his more natural position and is working in a first-team spot. He was a touted member of the 2011 signing class and, after a year of seasoning, appears ready to step into a starting job. He’ll get much-needed work in two nonconference games before really being put to the test against Alabama on Sept. 15.
Biggest Strength: Arkansas should be pretty stout in the interior with veterans Swanson and guard Alvin Bailey manning two positions. Swanson has proven to be a strong leader for the group, while Bailey is a force in the run game. Deacon is the question mark, stepping in to replace 2011 starter Grant Cook.
Biggest Question: Depth. What happens if someone is injured? The first scrimmage of the preseason showed there are problems with the second-team group, which was overwhelmed by the defensive line. So the take away is clear at this point: Arkansas faces an uphill battle if the first-team line is hit by the injury in 2012.
Projected Starters: Tackles – Brey Cook, So.; David Hurd, Jr.; Center – Travis Swanson, Jr.; Guards – Alvin Bailey, Jr.; Tyler Deacon, Sr.
Other Contributors: Tackles – Jason Peacock, Sr.; Chris Stringer, So.; Center/Guard – Mitch Smothers, So.; Guards – Marcus Danenhauer, RS-Fr.; Luke Charpentier, So.
That Figures: 26 — Consecutive starts streak for center Travis Swanson and guard Alvin Bailey. The two were plugged into the starting group as redshirt freshmen in 2010 and haven’t left the lineup since. Bailey started preseason camp working with the second-team, but is on track to help keep the streak intact on Sept. 1.
Quotable: “I feel like we’ve definitely come a long way. But at the same time, if you’re not a perfect offensive line in this league you’re not good enough. So you have to get better every single day. You have to keep working and keep grinding.” — Arkansas tackle David Hurd on the line’s progress in preseason camp
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau