FAYETTEVILLE — Junior offensive tackle Dalton Wagner and his teammates have yet to get on the practice field with the new coaching staff.
Wagner and the rest of the Razorbacks are currently learning through the virtual meetings being held. Wagner feels like the eight hours now allowed to teams is more helpful than first the two hours and then four.
“As far as having the extra time, it doesn’t make the coaches feel as rushed about the time constraints or anything, not having to look at the clock that much,” Wagner said. “They just know what they’ve got to get done and talk about it. It allows open communication and a lot more clearly. I think it’s a great addition.”
Wagner was recruited to Arkansas by Kurt Anderson and Bret Bielema. He then played for Dustin Fry and Chad Morris for two years. Now, it’s Sam Pittman as head coach and Brad Davis coaching the offensive line. Wagner was asked about Pittman and Davis?
“Kind of like their demeanor and everything,” Wagner said. “It’s all about getting bigger and bigger and stronger, faster and everything. There’s a really big emphasis on the O-line being the leaders of the team and making sure that if our group goes the rest of the team goes. That’s one of our biggest focal points of this upcoming season, is making sure that our group stays together, pushes each other daily, and Coach Davis and Coach Pittman are the guys that do it for sure.”
Wagner suffered a back injury and provided an update on it during Friday’s teleconference.
“I’ll be ready to go with my back and everything,” Wagner said. “Dave (Polanski), our head athletic director has been really helpful shooting out the rehab and workouts that I can do at home and everything. More stabilization and everything. When this all came down I was approaching the end of my rehab. So right now it’s all about strengthening it and just getting everything back to normal. I’ve been with Shane (Clenin) and Beaux (Limmer) trying to work out up here and run with that and doing bear crawls and all we can. Just trying to get strong and fast and rebuild that shoulder up.”
Wagner had to be impressed by the fact that both of Pittman’s offensive tackles at Georgia were drafted in the first round by NFL teams on Thursday night.
“I did watch it,” Wagner said. “It’s incredible. It’s a testament to Coach Pittman’s coaching and I’m really excited to be able to be coached by him and more importantly, to be coached by Coach Davis. Coach Pittman puts all of his trust into Coach Davis to get us to where we need to be and Coach Davis has coached plenty of good o-linemen, as well, great o-linemen. I’m really excited about what they can pour into me these last two years of eligibility I have.”
Wagner went into more detail what he likes about Davis and what has impressed him about his new coach.
“He’s easily one of the smartest offensive line coaches I’ve ever known,” Wagner said. “The stuff he goes over in depth. What’s been really awesome about it is with this time, we’ve been able to just kind of to start over and start fresh. He explains his philosophy on everything, and even just started from Day One stuff install. We’ve just slowly been progressing through everything. He’s really big on the details and making sure that everybody understands it. He’ll slow down if someone needs him to. So far, I’m so excited to play for him. I’m even more excited to be coached by him, because some of the tape that he’s shown us, and with how much he’s expanded all of our knowledge. I’m really excited for camp to start.”
Do you feel you are developing a bond with Davis?
“Right now, a lot is informal with the Zoom, but there’s definitely a lot of relationships being built with him, especially just trying to get that trust level up,” Wagner said. “We have quizzes after our meetings are over and you just try to do the best you can on those quizzes. Being a big guy, if he can’t trust you to really take a quiz then he can’t trust you on Saturdays. That’s kind of been his philosophy, and everyone is trying to earn his trust right now. On a personal level, we close out every meeting and he opens up every meeting with, ‘Is everyone OK? Is everyone safe? How’s your family? Does anyone need anything?’ I’m more than willing to bet he’ll give the shirt off his back. I guarantee he takes care of his players and makes sure everyone is safe. Also, he’s a hilarious guy.”
Wagner talked about how much he feels the linemen are learning from these sessions.
“Picking it up really well,” Wagner said. “We talk about it as much as we can during the meetings and then we go over the quizzes the next day, too, to see if there’s anything common that somebody got wrong or anything like that. We share our notes with one another, too, in some of our group messages, just making sure in case you missed something or someone else wrote down something that you didn’t pick up or you were writing something else down. We’re trying to make sure everyone stays caught up with it. Again, being able to kind of start over, start fresh and take our time with it. I think everyone in the O-line is growing a lot in their mental game right now.”
While the virtual meetings are good, Wagner talked about how they have related to learning the playbook since no on-the-field coaching has been done.
It’s not, obviously, the most ideal situation in the world, but it allows players to take a step back without the pressure of having to go out on the field and you get to learn everything in detail, taking your time. Then when camp comes around and we’re able to actually go out on the field, you know what you have to do. Now it’s just a matter of executing it. Again, everyone’s bought in to this offense. Everyone’s bought in, everyone’s motivated. Guys are really excited to get back and we’re really looking forward to camp and being able to put everything we’ve learned together. There’s so much extra that you learn when you’re able to slow everything down instead of it being condensed into what the NCAA can give you on a practice day.
Wagner, 6-9, 308, is a four-year junior from Spring Grove (Ill.) Richmond Burton High School.