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Clay Henry

CLAY HENRY: Even Petrino needs good tackles for offense to work

Columnist Clay Henry’s debut with HitThatLine on looking at Hogs’ scrimmage and his analysis of how offensive tackles looking.



If you want the big picture from a football practice, find a seat high in the stands. You can see all 22 on the field.

But to get the vibes of a scrimmage or have an interest in just one or two positions, move to the field. Get close enough to see and hear the crunch of pads hitting meat and bones.

That’s what I did for the Arkansas football scrimmage early Saturday. While many around the state were still sipping their morning coffee, I was setting up shop on the 35-yard line just a few feet from the action in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

The first and most important question in my mind: Has Bobby Petrino been given the offensive tackles to run his offense?

I don’t care how well Petrino can prepare a game plan for the opposition’s weak points, a void at offensive tackle — the glaring problem in 2023 — means a great playcaller has no chance.

That none of the three players who played the bulk of the snaps at offensive left and right tackle are playing those positions now is confirmation of my theory. The Hogs could not win last year with Andrew Chamblee, Devon Manuel and Patrick Kutas at tackle.

Chamblee quit football, Manuel hit the transfer portal and Kutas was moved to left guard.

Of course, you have to be good at quarterback. I’ll get to that, but if all I learned Saturday were that the two new offensive tackles could play, it would be a good day.

It was a great day.

It was my first practice, so the first order of business was to find a roster and learn the numbers for Keyshawn Blackstock (55) and Fernando Carmona (54).

It took only two possessions with the first team offense going against the first team defense to put my stamp of approval on what head coach Sam Pittman did in the transfer portal.

Never mind that quarterback Taylen Green is a 100 percent great get, it’s those two tackles that will give the 2024 Razorbacks a chance to compete each week. I’m not saying either one is great, although that could be true. They are at least good and a big step forward.

Blackstock, transfer from Michigan State, has firmly taken control at right tackle and that was obvious on the first series. He was closest to the east sideline, the offensive side where I stood so I could both hear and see Petrino.

Later when they flipped directions and Carmona was on my sideline, I was sure that he was a portal victory, too. The San Jose State transfer, just like Blackstock, has the feet to keep up with SEC defensive ends.

Earlier, a UA insider told me that the defensive ends think both of those offensive tackles are “bad men.” If anyone knows, it’s the dudes going against them in daily drills. They are going to know what this team has at offensive tackle well before the first scrimmage.


Carmona and Blackstone can mirror the quick twitch moves of a defensive end. You do that only with nimble feet. They are twins in that they are within a half-pound of each other at 6-5 and 325. That’s exactly what you need at offensive tackle in the SEC. They are both strong and fast.

Arkansas defensive end Lance, still sleek at 6-7, 285, never went around either one in a position to put any pressure on Green from the outside. Jackson did win once on the inside with a slick spin move against Blackstone but the ball was already gone.

What I liked best about both Blackstone and Carmona was their ability to quickly get to the boundary on either a sweep or a quick pass to the flats. They both crushed defensive backs that had no choice but to crumble under them in an obvious surrender.

I believe the Hogs will be able to run off tackle with these two blocking down. They play with proper pad level. I’m told that Pittman, one of the nation’s best offensive line coaches for the bulk of his career, has spent considerable time with the offensive tackles in drill work.

Pass protection was not an issue in the scrimmage, although I am not sure how much blitzing defensive coordinator Travis Williams had installed for the day. It may not have been much.

Petrino is running the offense and the scrimmage seemed to be scripted to his liking. There were a few of his infamous outbursts of strong language when a quarterback did not make the proper read, throw or decision. I commented once that I heard none and an insider said, “Move a little closer. It’s there.”

Green was told, “you can’t do that” on one flat pass that missed high. Petrino wore dark glasses even though it was overcast and the sun was behind him. But I bet all of the quarterbacks could feel the pierce of his eyes as they went through their choreographed paces.

Petrino seemed to be counting their steps and turns and reminded them of the desired exactness when they came to the sideline.

There was an apparent sack – maybe the only one of the day – midway through the morning. Green had worked from one side of the pocket to the other side before a defender broke free to touch him from the side.

Petrino knew there had been plenty of time to either find a receiver or dump the ball out of bounds. He yelled, “We don’t take sacks.” If you were in the top row of the east lower stands, you heard it. From where any of the quarterbacks stood maybe just a few feet from the offensive coordinator, it no doubt was deafening. No profanity was needed for emphasis.

What you feel quickly as you watch, the quarterbacks won’t take sacks. Number one, they will be better protected by this offensive line. Number two, they won’t hold the ball like KJ Jefferson did the last several years.

The defense was thoroughly whipped for the first two possessions of the scrimmage, but improved. But, throughout the offense could get a push in the offensive front at the point of attack and find some room for a group of big bruising backs.

I believe Petrino will have the luxury of play action pass calls that work because of these brutish running backs. It’s the delight of any play caller.

When Pittman talked about what he wanted in an offensive coordinator late last November after Dan Enos was fired, the first words out of his mouth on the goal, “I want someone who knows how to run the ball.”

Petrino can do that. I believe the Hogs will have an effective running game and that doesn’t count what Green or any of the backups can do in called quarterback runs or scrambles.


Green has elite speed and elusiveness and Malachi Singleton and Jacolby Criswell are close to that, too. Singleton looks like Felix Jones when he makes a dash. He is crafty in his cuts. He will break ankles.

Green is the best deep passer of the bunch. He found Luke Hasz in a tight window with a dart early in the scrimmage. It’s what drew applause as fans were moving into the stadium.

They might not have noticed, but the offensive tackles had the pocket perfect and Green was able to get both feet set to deliver that wonderful deep pass.

If you wonder why the Hogs didn’t execute more deep passes last year, it was that very thing, a lack of a clean pocket. It’s what I came to see. It was at least there in the first scrimmage of the spring.

Yes, there is hope for 2024. I can’t tell you much about the polish of this team or whether Kutas has the bulk to man that left guard spot. As they say, it’s early. I’ll get to that next week.

There will be more data to add to the offensive tackle hopes as more blitz packages are added.

What I saw makes me want to return. That much is at least an improvement from last year when it seems that almost everything you saw told you to leave early.

This time, I want more. It might be fun.