By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — No. 19 Arkansas will send an experienced offensive line out to face the No. 23 Cincinnati defense on Saturday, Sept. 3, but Cody Kennedy is also developing some quality depth.
Coaches always say they would like have at least eight offensive linemen ready to play in case of injuries. Kennedy is working to get to that point with plenty of options. The Hogs have Luke Jones and Dalton Wagner at the tackles, Brady Latham and Beaux Limmer at the guards and Ricky Stromberg the center.
Junior Ty’Kieast Crawford is pushing for a starting spot at right tackle, right guard or even left tackle. Crawford came to Arkansas after one season at Charlotte and was highly ranked out of Carthage (Texas) High School. He played in six games at Charlotte during the COVID 2020 year with three starts. He saw action in all 13 games with the Hogs last season. Many thought he would replace Myron Cunningham at left tackle, but Jones has held onto that spot.
“You can go down the wormhole on it and sit on the board and the depth chart, who goes down here, who goes down here,” Kennedy said. “Beaux has been taking a lot of center reps, as well, in the event that something were to happen to Rick or one of the other centers. So you’ve got a ride-side void there. Ty’Kieast has been working that, he’s also been working 1 right tackle reps. All of those guys, as well as Brady has been working 1 left tackle reps. So you’re getting those combo periods where, when we go into a Saturday, I don’t want to put a kid in a position that he has not seen versus the best that we have to offer here. Because the kid’s confidence is going to go up if I’ve played him in that position, so Ty’Kieast is getting a little bit of that. He’ll see a little bit more 1 guard as we progress through camp, but he’s gotten some 1 right tackle, he’s done well at 2 right tackle. He’s in a really good spot.
“I think last year a lot of guys were in the position where, heck, I take over in June, and now you’re — coaching O-line and coming in is kind of like Rosetta Stone. You’re just teaching a new language, you’re teaching a little bit of new techniques, but it’s basically a new language, new calls. So guys are building their confidence as they go. Ty’Kieast has really taken a hold of that. He’s in a really, really good spot right now. From a standpoint of making calls on offense that he wouldn’t have dreamed about making last year. He’s got to keep progressing and keep that consistency up. We’re going to need him this year. This is a big boy league. Offensive line-wise, you’re going to have issues at some point during the year. Not saying that he can’t go win it right now, but he’s progressed and he’s on the best trajectory he’s ever been here. And he’s the most ready to play that he’s ever been since he’s been here.”
Kennedy went into detail who is in the mix to play beyond the starting five and Crawford.
“I’ll just kind of go from left to right, and it’s going to be a handful,” Kennedy said. “So that’s a good thing, right? You don’t want to be, ‘Aw, let me try and get to seven.’ I’m going to give you an over, and then we’ll figure it out in these practices, right? You’ve got Andrew Chamblee running 2 left tackle. You’ve got Devon Manuel, whose had reps at 2 left tackle as well. OK, they’re in the mix. Jalen St. John’s in the mix (2 left guard). Street’s been running at 2 center for us right now with Marcus Henderson coming back. Marcus Henderson also another one.
“E’Marion Harris (2 right guard) is another one as well, and obviously we’ve already talked about Ty’Kieast. But those are guys that are like it’s a battle every day now. That’s what you want. You want guys competing and trying to … when they get in with the 2s, it means something to them, or when they get in with the 1s, it means something to them. Now should we all be red-lining it every rep? We should. But those guys, it means something when they’re in there and they’re battling every day.”
Another freshman who has made an impact is Patrick Kutas. He wasn’t here in the spring, but has quickly taken hold of the Arkansas offense and what Kennedy is asking him to do.
“He’s primarily at right guard,” Kennedy said. “And Patrick comes to us from a great program, Christian Brothers out of Memphis. He’s really a kid that is a super … He’s unique athlete, man. He’s a very, very large guy that’s super strong through his hands. He’s going to have a really, really bright future here. He’s just like every high school guy that comes in here in the trenches. The speed of the game. There’s glimpses of Patrick Kutas, like, ‘Holy smokes.’ As a freshman, you know what I’m saying?
“And then there’s other players where, ‘Aw, that’s a freshman.’ That’s no knock on Kutas. He’s doing a phenomenal job. But just getting to that consistent level of play with guys at a high level. Because he’s getting some reps with the twos, and he’s got to compete with different guys and it’s a good battle out there. He’s doing a phenomenal, phenomenal job, especially for a kid that didn’t get the spring portion of grasping our offense and knowing what to do.
“It’s kind of crazy to look up, and he’s what? Heck, I’m in a time warp right now, but what, eight days of practice? Nine days of practice? Something like that. That’s his number of practices he’s been with this team and you’ve got to take a step back sometimes and say, ‘Man, he’s progressing really, really well for where he’s at.’ I’m excited about him. He’s a good player.”
Josh Street is a 6-foot-6, 310-pound redshirt freshman from Bentonville High School. Kennedy talked about what Street has done to move to No. 2 center even if it is just until Henderson returns from injury.
“Anything and everything you ask him to do, he’s sprinting across the field like a mad man for every special teams period,” Kennedy said. “He’s snapping the ball and listening to me yell at him every day and trying to get him better. He’s just a battler, man, a blue collar (player) and he loves Arkansas, man. He loves being here, loves the Hogs. He’s what you want mentally. And he’s a do-everything guy. It’s the back-end wedge on kickoff return, is that punt shield, whatever, he’s running all over special teams and there’s spots for guys like that. And there should be.”
Center Eli Henderson is the fourth scholarship freshman on the offensive line. Kennedy talked about how he is progressing.
“Eli Henderson, he’s coming along,” Kennedy said. “He’s playing center, getting three reps with the center. Also three reps with the guard. He’s coming along everyday at it. He actually had a pretty good scrimmage the other day, and he’s just trying to put together the speed of the game. Also, center is a hard position to come in and play as a freshman. You have to have true command of the offense to play center with all your calls on your belt and go from there. He’s piecing it together, and he’s progressing everyday, which is a great thing.”
Arkansas knew it was getting some talented freshmen from Pulaski County when they signed Chamblee (Maumelle) and Harris (Joe T. Robinson).
“I think on the Chamblee deal he’s a long, rangy kid that can move, man,” Kennedy said. “Those are the two kids, like, that’s a great nucleus of an O-line recruiting class — kids in the state who were, like, we’re coming here. They really, really love being here. Chamblee is the more rangier guy, kind of super athletic. E’Marion Harris is a large kid, man. He’s a large, powerful kid. We’ve been flexing him in at guard, but man, he also is athletic enough to flex out to tackle. He’s a little bit more guard-tackle flex player, where Chamblee is a true tackle.
“But, man, I really enjoy those kids, I enjoy coaching them and they’re really sharp kids in the meeting room for just being freshmen. Chamblee texted me the other day after practice. He had videoed it on his phone and was like, ‘Hey, Coach, do I need to make this call or this call?’ Like, that type of investment from freshmen is really impressive when you’re talking about building toward the future. I’m not saying he can’t come out here and help us tomorrow, but, for your future as an offensive line room and where we want to be and want to be viewed at on a national scale that’s the type of kids you need in the room. I’m floored to have them.”
Kennedy took the moment to also praise Harris and Manuel for some work they did off the field.
“Just one thing on E-Harris and Devon Manuel,” Kennedy said. “Devon Manuel probably started at about 405, if we’re being real. E-Harris started at about 385. Both those kids today are sitting about the 325-330 range. Those kids have absolutely busted their tails. And they knew it. They felt it. Our nutrition department, our strength department, Coach (Jamil) Walker, (football dietitian) Julia (Zalewski) all those people get credit, but the kids get credit, too. They made their mind up this offseason that they couldn’t do things in the spring that they wanted to go achieve. Man, they put their head down and did it. E-Harris, Devon Manuel, those two kids are doing a great job. They need a pat on the back. I told them I was going to do it in the meeting room today.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields on Tuesday morning.