A football team with an experienced and talented offensive line is one poised for success.
The Arkansas Razorbacks boast four returning starters on the offensive front that led the SEC and the Power 5 in rushing last season with an average of 227.8 yards per game.
That’s one of the reasons some believe the Hogs can continue to have success this year in Sam Pittman’s third year as head coach after a breakthrough nine-win season in 2021.
A team’s center is very much the head of the spear, and the Razorbacks have a very good one in senior Ricky Stromberg, who was recently named to the Rimington Trophy watchlist.
The 6-4, 318-pound Tulsa native has started the bulk of his games as a Razorback. Stromberg played guard as a freshman, but has been a stalwart in the middle since Sam Pittman took over the program as head coach.
Stromberg was second-team All-SEC last year, and has a shot reaping that honor again or perhaps bettering it. Stromberg, who missed some practice time in the spring, is expected to be ready to go when practices begin late next week.
Right tackle Dalton Wagner (6-9, 337) returns for a fifth covid year, and guards Brady Latham (6-5, 303) and Beaux Limmer (6-5, 300) both return for their junior years.
Arkansas offensive line coach Cody Kennedy cross trains his lineman at several positions so that Arkansas can have its best five linemen available in the game in case of injuries. Latham, a junior from Jenks, Okla. has played tackle as well as guard in games, and has practiced at center.
That type of versatility is invaluable in a physical league like the SEC and shows the forward thinking of the Razorback coaching staff under Pittman, who was recognized far and wide as one of the top offensive line coaches in the business before taking on the head coaching chores for the Hogs.
Limmer, a junior from Tyler, Texas returns as a starter, and similar to Latham, he has quick feet and a nasty streak that serves him well in the middle of the action in the SEC. They aren’t the biggest tandem at guard in the SEC, but they are a tough twosome.
Little Rock senior Luke Jones (6-5, 327) closed spring at the right tackle spot vacated by Myron Cunningham, who is attempting to make it in the NFL. Jones will have to hold off Ty’Kieast Crawford (6-5, 347), a junior from Carthage, Texas, who may have the greatest upside of any Razorback offensive lineman.
However it shakes out, the competition will make the Razorbacks better, but fans should expect to see Crawford and Jones both get playing time this season, particularly with right tackle Wagner often suffering with back issues.
Whether as a receiver or as a blocker, the tight end is a key spot in offensive coordinator Kendall Briles’ offense.
Murfreesboro, Tenn. senior Trey Knox (6-5, 250) successfully transitioned from receiver to tight end during the middle of last season, and opened the door for the Hogs’ offense to be more diverse. He caught 20 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown.
Though he missed most of spring practice after being involved as a passenger in a car accident, Knox added some muscle to his lean frame and should be a weapon for the Hogs this season.
Jefferson City, Mo. junior Nathan Bax (6-4, 260) is a more traditional tight end and will play a role similar to Blake Kern the last two years. Little Rock junior Hudson Henry (6-5, 257) has the tools for the position but needs to be more consistent to garner more playing time.
With a majority of the starting spots nailed down on the interior, building depth is a key concern. Memphis sophomore Marcus Henderson (6-5, 287) worked as Stromberg’s backup in the spring and got snaps with the first team when Stromberg was out with an injury. He needs to continue t add muscle to his rangy frame.
On the other hand, Devon Manuel (6-9, 366) could stand to lose some more weight, but the freshman from Sunset, La. is an intriguing prospect at tackle with the size and athleticism Kennedy and Pittman like.
E’Marion Harris (6-7, 362) is a freshman that reported early in the spring, who has worked at guard and tackle. He has a bright future ahead of him and has Razorback bloodlines as the son of Elliott Harris, who played defensive line for Arkansas from 2001-4.
Maumelle freshman Andrew Chamblee (6-6, 311) has a future at tackle, but like Harris is an early enrollee who needs to continue to gain strength in the weight room and work on his craft in practice.
Jalen St. John (6-4, 315) of St. Louis, Mo. has the potential to be a solid player, but he has to put in the work in the weight room and his playbook to allow his natural ability to work for him.
The Razorbacks have six lineman ready for action. If they could increase that number to seven or eight in preseason, the Hogs will be better suited for the rigors of Southeastern Conference play.