FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas returns all five starters from last season’s offensive line and has experienced players behind even the starters.
Sam Pittman has Cody Kennedy coaching the offensive line this season. Even with the experienced players returning the coaches are still doing some cross training on the offensive line.
“You know it was a two spot thing we were doing for those first 6 or 7 days, or whatever that is,” Pittman said. “That allows us during that time to cross train people. I’ve done it all the time when I was an offensive line coach. But I also tell the guys that if I’m the second team left tackle, let’s say, the worst thing that you get in a game and the left tackle for whatever reason he gets tired or he gets hurt or whatever it is, and coach moves somebody ahead of you and you’ve been playing second team on the depth chart, I don’t believe in that. I believe that if a guy, whomever your sixth guy is, he needs to be ready to play, and you need to have an opportunity… you need to have seen that.
“What we do is we do ones, twos and threes, and then combo. And combo is a combination of maybe your worst nightmare. In other words, we can’t afford to lose this guy. Well, in the combo period you just did. We got to find out who that guy is. The next day it might be, we can’t afford to lose Ricky Stromberg. Well, you just did. Who’s Ty Clary, the next center we have? You’ve got to find those things out.”
A battle that is still going on is at left guard with redshirt sophomore Brady Latham and redshirt junior Luke Jones. Pittman talked about how that battle is going.
“I would say he’s (Latham) going out with the ones,” Pittman said. “I would say that there’s still a major battle between him and Jones in that there. I mean major. You know obviously Jones was starting, and now he is, so obviously us as a coaching staff think that Latham is played a bit a little bit better than him, but there’s still a major battle there. Now, we’ll have to see what happens at today’s scrimmage too to kind of really get another full live let’s go sic’em type deal to figure it out.”
Starting left tackle Myron Cunningham started next to Latham much of last season and has good chemistry with him.
“I think just our chemistry has gotten better,” Cunningham said. “We played a lot together last year, but for him, I think he’s learning the offense a lot better this year. He’s not taking as much time to get through his reads, he’s a lot more physical this year in our run game, and I think he’s going to be great.”
A transfer from Charlotte who is competing at right tackle in Ty’kieast Crawford who is behind Dalton Wagner. Kendal Briles talked about the 6-foot-5, 350-pound Crawford on Friday.
“Yeah, Ty’Kieast, he’s been up and down,” Briles said. “And we kind of thought that he would be that way. From a physical ability standpoint, he’s got all the tools. And we’re excited about the future and what he can be. And, Ty’Kieast, he’s going to keep working to be what he can be. He’s got the chance to be an NFL player and an All-American type player in college, and I think he’ll get there as long as he puts his mind to it. But I love the progression and how he’s gotten better each and every day. And today he took another step in the right direction.”
Cunningham talked about what he has seen from Crawford.
“I’ve just seen improvement from him every day he comes in,” Cunningham said. “He’s just trying to work and trying to learn to better himself out there on the field. The past scrimmages, he’s gotten better throughout the two scrimmages that we’ve had and it’s going to help him come time for the season.”
Defensive end Zach Williams goes against the offensive line each practice. He also talked about what he has seen from Crawford.
“I feel he is getting a lot better,” Williams said. “The thing with Ty’Kieast, once he gets his hands on you, you can’t really get them off no matter what you try to really do. That’s what I really like about him. Everybody has different aspects to why they’re great, and Ty’Kieast is getting a lot better with his hands. And I appreciate that, because he’s helping me get better.”
Kennedy appreciates all the experience he has in the offensive line room.
“Yeah a lot a lot of starts in that room, a lot of maturity, a lot of guys that have seen the ups and the trends of this program,” Kennedy said. “They’ve heard from a lot of different coaches. So just speaking their language and working on that. Building our calls and different things up front. It’s easier when you have those guys who have experienced change before. You’ve got a lot of starts in there with the Cunningham’s, the Wagner’s, the Clary’s, the Stromberg’s. These guys have been in a lot of games, a lot of snaps. And that experience just breeds confidence, and they’re able to see those situations that arise almost before they do it. So, a lot of fun coaching them. Got a great room right there, and I wake up every day blessed to be here and blessed to be coaching them.”
With Clary at center until Stromberg is able to go full time, Beaux Limmer is starting at right guard next to Wagner at tackle.
“I really enjoy coaching both of those guys,” Kennedy said. “Beaux’s kind of a no-nonsense guy, go get to work. There’s merit to that. I appreciate that. He shows up every day. You’re not going to hear much out of him. You’ve got to ask him the questions in the meeting room and he gets them right. So I let him roll. I really enjoy coaching him. And then Dalton, I mean he’s the the old man in the room, you know. He keeps us laughing in there, and he’s a really sharp guy that, honestly, I think if you look at the room, you take him as a freshman versus what he is now, he’s grown leaps and bounds not only from a personality and leadership perspective but also a player. And the situation’s he’s seen throughout his years, now he’s building that confidence, he’s playing time fast and doing some really good things. I really think those two guys are doing really, really well.”
Three offensive linemen from Pittman’s first recruiting class are Jalen St. John, Ray Curry and Marcus Henderson. Kennedy talked about how of the trio is progressing.
“I’ll start with St. John,” Kennedy said. “He’s out there at tackle and doing a good job. He’s growing into his role as a tackle, being able to set with those edge rushers. He’s a bigger guy, but he’s learning his set and maturing in that. You’ve got Marcus Henderson, who’s been over at right tackle. Doing a good job. Big, athletic guy. More of an athletic-sized tackle. Him and St. John kind of contrast a little bit and you see that in body styles. Then you’ve got Ray Curry who’s coming along there. He’s getting better every day just understanding what we’re doing from an offensive perspective. He’s continued to progress.”
With the knee injury to Stromberg, Clary has been getting the first-team reps at center after coming into fall camp as the starting right guard. But Clary has a lot of experience at center.
“It’s like I never left,” Clary said. “You know it’s like riding a bike. Pick it back up and go back to center. Not too much changes when you are in the middle. Well you talk a little bit more when you’re at center.”
Is it a little tougher psychologically since you came in as a guard?
“Definitely it’s a little bit more different because guard you can be a little more violent, a little more physical and I like that,” Clary said. “Center you have to make the calls and you’re at the front of the line. So you have be ready to take some hits and also just get back off the line so you don’t get picked.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields this afternoon.