FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — If Arkansas’ offense and record will be better in 2019 a big part of the reason could be an improved offensive line.
Arkansas has struggled on the offensive line since Sam Pittman left for the same job at Georgia following the 2015 season. Bret Bielema replaced Pittman with Kurt Anderson and the team promptly gave up 70 sacks in two seasons. That compared to 22 sacks the two previous years under Pittman.
The Hogs allowed 32 sacks in 2018, but it wouldn’t be fair to put that on Dustin Fry. The numbers were so low on the offensive line when Fry, Chad Morris and the staff arrived from SMU that seldom did Fry ever have 10 scholarship linemen to work with in practice.
Arkansas lost left tackle Colton Jackson prior to fall drills due to back issues. He didn’t return until the third game of the season against North Texas when he backed up true freshman Noah Gatlin.
To help ease the depth issue Morris moved junior Austin Capps to the offensive line. He provided depth at offensive guard.
Jalen Merrick, Jake Heinrich and Dylan Hays had to give up football for medical reasons. Zach Rogers chose to retire from football.
So Fry had to use makeshift lineups not only in games, but in practice. Morris and Fry went to work to fix the numbers on the line. Arkansas signed six offensive linemen in the Class of 2019 including two from junior college who went through spring drills. In addition, the Hogs landed Notre Dame transfer Luke Jones and also added two talented preferred walk-ons.
Jones isn’t expected to be eligible in 2019, but is someone who should be a big help beginning in 2020. He currently has four years to play three so if he redshirts this season he will have three to play three. The former Pulaski Academy standout should have a bright future with the Hogs.
Myron Cunningham came in from Iowa Central Community College and is expected to start this fall. Right now he’s battling Jackson at left tackle, but also played some left guard. If he moves to left guard he would then compete with Capps for that spot.
Chibueze Nwanna came over from Lackawanna (Pa.) Community College and served as the backup right tackle in the spring.
In addition to Jackson, Cunningham and Capps, the Hogs have junior Ty Clary returning as the start at center. He is being challenged by redshirt freshman Silas Robinson, a member of Morris’ first class.
The right side of the offensive line currently has sophomore Shane Clenin at right guard with sophomore Dalton Wagner and redshirt freshman Noah Gatlin battling at right tackle. Redshirt freshman Ryan Winkel and sophomore Kirby Adcock also in the mix for playing time.
At the end of the day, Fry will figure out who is the five best offensive linemen and then get them in a position to make it possible to put them on the field.
While striving to get the five best on the field it’s possible the staff could opt to move Clenin to center to compete against Clary, shift Capps to right guard and then let Wagner and Gatlin battle it out at right tackle. Is it possible that Jackson could even move to guard if Cunningham wins the left tackle? Time will tell on that.
While incoming true freshmen Beaux Limmer, Ricky Stromberg, Brady Latham and Dylan Rathcke will be given looks in preseason drills it might benefit each of them to redshirt. Limmer in particular has been mentioned as someone who might compete at center.
Andrew Vest and Logan Kalleson are two preferred walk-on freshmen offensive linemen who if they stay in the program may eventually make key contributions.