HawgBeat's Preseason Burning Questions: How will the OL shape up?
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The status of the 2020 college football season remains perilous as we inch closer to - at least what is scheduled to be - Week 1.
As of this moment, Arkansas is still set to open the Sam Pittman era against Nevada on Sept. 5 in Fayetteville. That could change if the SEC follows the Big Ten’s lead and shifts to a conference-only schedule.
However, for the time being, HawgBeat is treating it as everything is moving forward as planned. That includes the start of NFL-style OTAs - which are essentially walk-through practices - for the Razorbacks on July 24.
Leading up to that date, we are revealing our 10 “burning questions” surrounding Arkansas as it prepares for what everyone hopes to be a fall football season. Next up…
How will the offensive line shape up?
The hiring of Sam Pittman was met with skepticism by most people around the country. Their comments were usually something along the lines of, “You hired an offensive line coach with no Division I head coaching - or even coordinating - experience?”
While those concerns were understandable and definitely valid, a large portion of the Arkansas fanbase trumpeted his return to Fayetteville because - in their eyes - it marked the return to physical play in the trenches.
During his three-year stint as Arkansas’ offensive line coach from 2013-15, Pittman’s units gave up just 36 sacks in 38 games and led the SEC in fewest sacks allowed each year. In the four years after his departure, the Razorbacks allowed 121 sacks in 49 games - more than twice as many under Pittman on a per-game basis.
The hope is that his presence - even though Brad Davis has the actual role of offensive line coach - will lead to an immediate improvement in an area desperately in need of it.
A change in philosophy, which comes with players bulking up and adding weight, could contribute to that, but there is also some thought that Pittman might rearrange an offensive line that returns four starters.
Senior Myron Cunningham, who is up to to 319 pounds, is the frontrunner to start at left tackle. Jim Nagy - the executive director of the Senior Bowl and a former NFL scout - has said he could be one of the “fastest risers” in the 2021 NFL Draft class.
Beyond that, the other positions could legitimately see a reshuffling.
Almost certainly a lock to start somewhere, sophomore Ricky Stromberg - who is up to nearly 300 pounds after being listed at 260 last season - primarily played right guard last season, but could flip to the left side.
A four-team preseason All-SEC selection by Phil Steele, Ty Clary is a multi-year starter at center. However, some have speculated he could be moved to one of the guard positions if Pittman can’t fix his snaps.
That could open the door for someone like Luke Jones, who sat out last season after transferring from Notre Dame, to fill in at center, but he would also be a candidate at guard if Clary sticks at center.
Right tackle could see the position battle we missed out on last year when Noah Gatlin went down with a torn ACL on the first day of fall camp. That injury allowed Dalton Wagner to start there all season.
There’s also a chance for one of the young guys - like redshirt freshmen Beaux Limmer and Brady Latham - to emerge as a contributor on the offensive line this season.
Considering the interest in the position and Pittman’s background, this might honestly be one of the top couple of burning questions facing the Razorbacks this preseason.
HawgBeat's Preseason Burning Questions
5. How will the offensive line shape up?