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Clay Henry

Razorbacks seem tougher in trenches

Sam Pittman, Bobby Petrino want — and will demand — more toughness in offensive line that showed in spring practices.



If you write a favorable review of spring practice, that does not mean you have made a prediction on the season.

What follows is not a forecast of an SEC championship or a breakthrough season for head coach Sam Pittman. That could happen, but this is not that kind of a column.

If you scan the Internet for post-season summaries around the SEC, you might see a similar piece about almost all of the 16 schools. Most every team in the league should look good because all of them had a chance to repair and reload with the transfer portal.

If any school didn’t find suitable replacements for transfers, graduates and draft losses, they were not trying. You can buy what you need. It’s an open market on any school outside the power 5. You can poach their players in a most legal manner.

But, that doesn’t mean you know what to do when you get them. You can screw it up by loading up too heavily in an area and neglect depth somewhere else. Good sense is required as you reload.

Worse, you can fail to coach toughness.

I don’t have a window into every school in the SEC, but there are some old contacts that often reach out for an Arkansas outlook. That happened with an old friend from Oklahoma this week.

It was highly interesting because the Sooners are new SEC members.

There was talk back and forth about Oklahoma and Arkansas and how they compare right now. He was visiting with a former OU player who had seen several scrimmages in Norman this spring. The lack of physicality was his main takeaway.

The conclusion by the OU grad was that his team was not ready for the SEC’s all-out trench wars each Saturday. What the OU linemen lack wasn’t mentioned, but no matter the talent level, you better hit every practice in the spring or you won’t in the fall. He said the Sooners did not.

Ironically, what I saw this spring was just the opposite. The hitting was more intense and more regular. Those who saw UA practices every day — and they were all open in a change instituted by head coach Sam Pittman — thought they were more physical.

Iron sharpens iron. The defense had nothing to test them last spring. That’s changed. Both lines seem tougher and more advanced. It looked like an SEC front on both sides of the ball in the spring.

I saw only the major scrimmages. It was exactly what I like, first team against first team for almost every play. That’s the way to get better.

Transfer quarterback Taylen Green is plenty good enough to give new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino a nice balance between pass and run. He is a dual threat.

Green is faster than KJ Jefferson, the Arkansas starter the last three years. He may be a more accurate passer and throws a laser deep ball. He’s plenty talented.


He’s not Ryan Mallett or Lamar Jackson, the all-star quarterbacks Petrino has had in the past. But he’s got enough top shelf qualities to cause issues for SEC defenders. He will make you play the pass and if you make man-to-man coverage too obvious, he’ll cut you up with a 6-6 stride that reminds of Matt Jones.

Who knows how many hits his slender body will take, or if Petrino wants to call a bunch of QB runs. But you can’t win in power 5 football without a running threat at QB. Green is that.

The most important position is always quarterback. But if you are at least equal at that position, games are decided at tackle, on both sides of the ball.

Defensive ends or a nose guard in an odd front, or the entire front four in an even scheme, should be considered tackles.

But the key to any improvement for the Razorbacks has to start at offensive tackle, inadequate for almost any league last year, much less the SEC.

It’s worth noting that the Hogs have completely new starting tackles. Of the three who started last year, one quit, one left and the other moved to guard.

The starting tackles are more than adequate now. They may be top shelf.

Left tackle Fernando Carmona, transfer from San Jose State, is an amazing athlete. Right tackle Keyshawn Blackstock isn’t as quick, but he may be stronger. A Michigan State transfer, Blackstock is a former first team All-American at Coffeyville Community College. He’s a native of Covington, Ga.  Both are 6-5, 325, and can run.

The offensive tackles were my focus in the two scrimmages I attended. Neither of the OT newcomers disappointed. They can get to the boundary to block on sweeps and screens. They don’t give up the edge in pass protection. They can hold ground against a bull rush and that includes UA star defensive end Landon Jackson, a fine measuring stick.

The Hogs should be able to run the ball. The backs are big and solid. They are perfect for the off-tackle running Petrino likes in the fourth quarter when you need to protect a protect a lead. That’s when defenses are trying to rush the passer. You can’t stop the run if you are attacking the quarterback.

Petrino told Pittman after the first scrimmage of the spring, “I think we can run the ball.” I trust Petrino’s judgment on that call.

If I was to guess, the added live work was Petrino’s request. His goal in his first stint at Arkansas was to build toughness.

One of Petrino’s rules on offense, don’t pass up a hit. He never liked seeing one of his backs or receivers running out of bounds to avoid contact.

Sitting with old friends with good football IQ for the second scrimmage, it was apparent to all that the Hogs are better in the offensive line. This team won’t give up as many sacks and I would bet that lost yardage plays disappear with a downhill running game.

Petrino does not tolerate softness. It disappears when he’s around. He’s about confrontation and accountability.


If this Arkansas team is soft, I’ll be stunned.

Nothing can be assumed until the season starts. I want to see the Hogs against another credible opponent. The trip to play Oklahoma State in Stillwater in week two will answer a lot of questions. There is no report from my Oklahoma friend about the physical prowess of the Cowboys.

I’m betting that the Hogs are going to see if the Cowboys can stop a physical SEC running game. It may be that the Hogs have one and that will be a major step forward.