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The Evolution of the Arkansas Razorbacks Offensive Line


Arkansas offensive line
© Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

In 2021 and 2022 the Arkansas Razorbacks finished both seasons ranked No. 7 in the nation in rushing offense and finished with winning records behind their offensive line. The Arkansas offensive line was crucial in developing a formidable rushing attack. The Razorbacks would make bowl games in both seasons and walk away with exciting victories.


At the beginning of 2023, many hope-fueled Hog faithful were optimistic that their rushing offense was still dominant. This "fool's gold" was despite the mastermind of the offense, Kendall Briles, taking a quick exit out of Fayetteville, Ark., to make a lateral move and run the offense at Texas Christian University.


Arkansas had established a palpable identity offensively under Briles' careful tutelage, but his absence on the headset was a hole that had to be covered. The Razorbacks decided to bring back a coach whose familiarity with Sam Pittman and the Fayetteville area was thought to bring "good vibes."

Enter offensive coordinator Dan Enos and his "stone age" pro-style attack that lost popularity and success around the same time he left Arkansas during his first stint with the Razorbacks under Bret Bielema from 2015-17.


The Razorbacks regressed in nearly every offensive statistical category in 2023. Offensive linemen appeared disinterested in the run scheme and discombobulated in pass protection. The unit gave up the most sacks in school history with 47 and posted their lowest rushing total since 2012. Even former coach John L. Smith, couldn't "smile" about that.


Enos, now an offensive analyst at Florida, was fired one day after the team could only muster a field-goal attempt to an equally disappointing Mississippi State program. The "quick-fix" backfired and Arkansas failed to reach a third straight bowl game, finishing 2023 at 4-8, and near the bottom of the barrel in offensive statistics.





 

New faces, new places


To couch coaches, pundits and players alike, one of the most glaring issues with last year's team was their ineptitude and egregious play along the offensive line. A 180-degree turn from their success in previous years led Pittman to tell his protege and offensive line coach Cody Kennedy to seek employment elsewhere. As irony would have it, Kennedy found a job with a divisional foe. Those same Mississippi State Bulldogs that ultimately punched his pink slip for him.


Eric Mateos would be hired in early December to fill Kennedy's role as the offensive line coach, bringing his knack for player development with him. That skill is one Mateos will need to refine as sharply as he can in the coming seasons. Mateos previously coached Joe Moore Award Semifinalist offensive lines at Baylor and Brigham Young University.





With spring practices starting, the competition for starting spots in the offensive trenches appears to be fierce and far from over. Let's dive in and see who could end up on the front line next fall.


 

PROMISING RETURNING OFFENSIVE LINEMEN


Ty'Kieast Crawford

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 319 pounds

Year: Senior-plus

One of the more experienced Razorback blockers on the depth chart, Crawford has appeared in 32 games in three seasons, making starts in six games at tackle and guard. Crawford will likely stick to playing tackle using his nimble feet to seal edge rushers and long arms to move bodies in the run game. Crawford is from Carthage High School in Carthage, Texas.


Andrew Chamblee

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 305 pounds Year: Redshirt Sophomore

Chamblee's status on the team now hangs in limbo after Pittman's first spring press conference. According to Pittman, Chamblee "lost his love for the game." The former Maumelle High School (Maumelle, Ark.) standout responded to the claims in a now-deleted post stating, "We not done yet... ." Chamblee's potential return to the fold would be good for Arkansas. His post included him holding his First Team All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team trophy. Chamblee made eight starts for the Razorbacks last year and finished with a 48.4 PFF grade while struggling to adjust to SEC-caliber play. Despite his shortcomings, he is likely to be a starting tackle in his third year on campus.




Amaury Wiggins

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 310 pounds

Year: Redshirt Junior

Wiggins transferred to Arkansas to start 2023 after gaining First Team Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference honors in 2022 while playing center for Coffeyville Community College (Coffeyville, Kan.). Hailing from Pine Forest High School in Pensacola, Fla., Wiggins has experience snapping and will push to be the starting center after Beaux Limmer declared for the 2024 NFL Draft.

Josh Street

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 313 pounds

Year: Redshirt Junior

A Bentonville native, Street came to Arkansas in 2021 as a preferred walk-on. Street has seen action in every game the last two seasons on special teams and has garnered praise from Pittman about his versatility and tenacity at any position on the line. Street could challenge to take the center or guard position in 2024.


Paris Patterson

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 352 pounds

Year: Redshirt Freshman

Patterson signed with Arkansas as the No. 10-ranked guard in the country according to Rivals coming out of East St. Louis High School in Illinois in 2023. Patterson did not see any game action in 2023 due to a redshirt, but he does have the skills to move up the depth chart with unnatural quickness for a person his size.


Patrick Kutas

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 312 pounds

Year: Junior

Kutas played every game his freshman season on special teams for the Razorbacks in 2023. Kutas impressed coaches with a tremendous spring and found himself as the starting right tackle for Arkansas. Kutas made nine starts last fall including one game against Ole Miss at center. He recorded a PFF grade of 53.5 on more than 500 snaps—a grade he will be working to improve with better footwork in pass protection next fall. A four-star recruit from Christain Brothers High School in Memphis, Tenn., Kutas is nearly a lock for one of the tackle spots in 2024.


Arkansas offensive line
© Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

E'Marion Harris

Height: 6-foot7

Weight: 294 pounds

Year: Redshirt Junior

Harris is from Little Rock, Ark., where he played tackle for Joe T. Robinson High School. He was the third-best available in-state prospect for the Razorbacks in the 2023 class and was a consensus four-star talent with fleet-footed run-blocking and a strong lower half that kept pass rushers at bay. Harris appeared in six games in 2023 and played a drive during the 2022 Liberty Bowl win over Kansas, all at the tackle position. Coaches are looking for Harris to use his long frame and ability to block at the second level to crack the first-string spots come spring.


Joshua Braun

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 349

Year: Redshirt Senior

Braun transferred to Fayetteville from Gainesville, Fla., last summer and was a bright spot for the underperforming unit last season. The Live Oak, Fla., native spent his first three seasons at the University of Florida where he made spot starts at guard and on special teams during his sophomore and junior campaigns. He transferred to Arkansas and finished 2023 with a 71.3 PFF grade—the highest amongst returners on the Razorback offensive line. A guard spot will be Braun's to lose.

 

NEW BLOOD for Arkansas offensive line


With new coaches entering the fold, many could expect new players to emerge alongside them. Mateos helped Razorback signees Kobe Branham and Zuri Madison put pen to paper. Branham is a 6-foot-6, 320-pound interior offensive lineman who exerted his will at guard while playing just down the interstate for Southside High School in Fort Smith. Madison played guard at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington, Ky., and is 6-foot-5 tips the scales at 315 pounds.


Arkansas signed three transfer offensive linemen during the first portal period, all with enough experience and raw skill to challenge the incumbents for a spot up front.


Keyshawn Blackstock

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 325 pounds Year: Redshirt Junior

Blackstock moves to town from East Lansing where he was a backup tackle for Michigan State last fall, after transferring in from Coffeyville Community College, where he played with Wiggins. Originally hailing from Newton High School in Covington, Ga., Blackstock is listed by most recruiting services as an interior lineman. His size and dominance in the KJCCC earned him a first-team all-conference selection and the label of a JUCO All-American in 2022. Blackstock is expected to stick to tackle for his battle for a starting position.


Addison Nichols

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 306 pounds

Year: Redshirt Sophomore

Nichols' eardrums will thank him after escaping the incessant blaring of "Rocky Top" he endured during his first two years at Tennessee. A native son of Norcross, Ga., Nichols appeared in 14 games during his first two years, mostly on special teams for the Volunteers. Sporadically, he did play over 90 total snaps last year, rotating at right and left guard. Nichols is expected to compete for the first-string center position this spring. He was the No. 4-ranked interior offensive lineman out of high school in 2022, according to 247 Sports.


Fernando Carmona Jr.

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 325 pounds

Year: Redshirt Junior

Carmona was a coveted prospect in the last portal cycle and Arkansas is hoping he can use his pass-pro skills to beat his opponents like a drum. The former San Jose State Spartan was largely unrecruited from Las Vegas High School as a tight end. Carmona beefed up during his first year at San Jose State, and by his second he was the starting right tackle. He started 24 consecutive games the next two seasons and allowed only three sacks in 2022 on 569 pass-blocking attempts. His 2023 season saw his hard work pay off even more as he gained Honorable Mention All-Mountain West Conference accolades and finished with a combined 81.5 PFF grade. Carmona will likely man a tackle spot for Arkansas next fall with the biggest threat to usurp his spot being Chamblee.




 

PROJECTED STARTERS

POSITION

FIRST-TEAM

SECOND-TEAM

LEFT TACKLE

Fernando Carmona Jr.

E'Marion Harris

LEFT GUARD

Joshua Braun

Josh Street

CENTER

Addison Nichols

Amaury Wiggins

RIGHT GUARD

Ty'Kieast Crawford

Keyshawn Blackstock

RIGHT TACKLE

Patrick Kutas

Andrew Chamblee

Others to watch: Tim Dawn, Paris Patterson, Kobe Branham, Luke Brown


 

RETURN TO REDEMPTION


Aransas offensive line
© Doug Engle/Ocala Star Banner and the Gainesville Sun / USA TODAY NETWORK

After 14 spring practices, which started on March 7, Mateos, Bobby Petrino, and noted lineman-whisperer Pittman should know which big fellas will start the season. With Chamblee's status on the team still in limbo, look for preferred walk-on Dawn to shuffle things around on the two deep. Dawn is a center by trade which could impact Nichols or Wiggins sliding over to guard spot, while Blackstock could fill the role of backup tackle.


A Camden, Ark., native, Dawn is 6-foot-2 and played at 311 pounds last fall for Mateos at Baylor.


The 2024 Razorbacks will need more inspired play from the big men as the SEC is routinely won and lost in the trenches. After a bountiful haul in the portal, the newcomers and elder statesmen must elevate their games to see Petrino's attack come to fruition. Spring practices are for the refinement of their skills. With very few positions etched in stone, nearly every lineman will have something to prove.

The nosedive taken by last year's unit will hopefully be the punchline to a bad joke at Blessings Country Club in Fayetteville instead of a harsh reality that Razorback fans now anticipate as football season rolls around.








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