FAYETTEVILLE — First impressions have a way of lingering.
The Arkansas Razorbacks’ football team, which encouraged lighter, more nimble offensive linemen during the ill-fated Chad Morris years of 2018-19, have overhauled their approach to the big men heading into Year 3 with Coach Sam Pittman.
Bigger and taller linemen give the Hogs a different complexion as they open training camp with a closed session today at 5 p.m. They have also bulked up at other positions, including linebacker, and added speed and length at receiver.
“I mean, we’re a big football team now,” Pittman said at his pre-camp press conference Wednesday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. “We look like an SEC football team, in my opinion, now.”
Pittman stressed a 3 “S” approach since his arrival: speed, size and strength.
The Razorbacks’ 110-man roster, a bump of five players from years past, is better equipped in all three areas after a third combination of winter workouts and summer conditioning under strength coach Jamil Walker.
“Speed-wise, I think there’s two parts of that,” Pittman said. “One is you recruit speed, and the other is you develop speed. I think we’ve done a really good job, Coach Walker and his staff, of developing our guys to get bigger and stronger. But also we spent a lot of time on speed development training as well.
“So I think we’re a bigger and a faster team. And then I think recruiting and the guys we brought in — we’re starting to recruit bigger and stronger and faster guys when they walk in the door and then you can develop them even further at that point. So yeah, I like the way our team looks and I like our team speed.”
Pittman singled out an individual when asked for players who stood out in summer workouts.
“Beaux Limmer,” Pittman said, referencing the 6-5, 300-pound redshirt junior and returning starter at right guard. “I mean, he’s a freakish type guy. He’s strong in the squat and the bench and all these things.
“I mean, he’s kind of a freak-of-nature type guy. He stood out. That’s the one that I would say right now that I can recall that I thought really was unbelievable. There’s a lot of them, but he’s one I want to talk about.”
Limmer is one of the four returning starters on the front, joining center Ricky Stromberg, left guard Brady Latham and right tackle Dalton Wagner. Add in projected left tackle starter Luke Jones, a 6-5, 327-pound senior, and the quintet averages a hulking 6-5, 317 pounds. That kind of size rivals the mid-2010s era Arkansas linemen coached by Pittman who were touted as the largest in American football, led by future NFL players Frank Ragnow, Sebastian Tretola, Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper.
The average size goes up when junior Ty’Kieast Crawford is included. The 6-5, 347-pound Crawford has played only sparingly since transferring from North Carolina-Charlotte, but Pittman and offensive line coach Cody Kennedy see his prospects rising. He’s targeted to compete with Wagner at right tackle, but could win playing time inside as well.
Wagner had a procedure done on his back, a condition that kept him out for parts of the spring, so the three-year starter could wind up sharing time with Crawford.
“Cody and I had a long conversation about him,” Pittman said. “Dalton is a guy that, we want him to stay healthy every game, but I don’t know that he can play every single rep of every game.
“I don’t know. He’s got some issues, some physical issues injury-wise. So, we’re going to solidify that right tackle spot first.”
Pittman said Crawford would also see work at right guard and possibly even left tackle.
“I just think the guy’s a really good player, and I think he needs to help us,” he said. “So, we’re going to keep him on the right side right now … see if he can win one of those spots. If he doesn’t, he’s going to play a lot of ball for us either way. We talked about left tackle, as well, but I think the best thing for him for playing time is to keep him on that right side and let him learn two positions.”
The younger offensive linemen, outside of backup center Marcus Henderson, a 6-5, 287-pounder, are trending toward huge.
Every other scholarship lineman checks in at 300-plus pounds outside of 6-5, 298-pound Cole Carson and 6-5, 297-pounder Terry Wells.
There are super-sized trench workers in the pipeline like Jalen St. John (6-5, 334), E’Marion Harris (6-7, 362), Devon Manuel (6-9, 366), Andrew Chamblee (6-6, 311) and Patrick Kutas (6-5, 305), so Arkansas could actually up-size in the coming years.
The defensive front has some catching up to do in the size department, particularly at tackle. However, players like Eric Gregory (6-4, 302), Isaiah Nichols (6-3, 302), who has switched jersey numbers from No. 93 to 33, Cam Ball (6-5, 313), Terry Hampton (6-1, 314) and Marcus Miller (6-5, 298) give the Razorbacks some beef on the front while Taurean Carter (6-3, 298) is on the mend from knee surgery.
On the speed front, Arkansas is starting to collect an array of difference makers at wideout.
Quarterback Malik Hornsby, possibly the fastest player on the team, showed he could catch deep passes during the spring, and he’ll be in the mix at wideout along with speedsters like Bryce Stephens, Isaiah Sategna and others.
Transfers Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers are taller targets at 6-3 and 6-5, respectively, along with 6-2 Ketron Jackson and 6-3 Warren Thompson, and that long-legged group all appears to be in the top shelf of receivers for quarterback KJ Jefferson.
“He’s big physical and he can run now,” Pittman said of Landers, who enrolled at Georgia when Pittman was on Kirby Smart’s staff there before transferring to Toledo. “I mean he can fly.”
The 5-11, 173-pound Fayetteville High product Sategna, who is wearing Treylon Burks’ old No. 16, and 6-3, 202-pound Sam Mbake (in No. 17), enrolled over the summer.
“Isaiah has very good ball skills, can separate,” Pittman said. “He’s exactly what we thought he would be. Mbake is a big, long, physical guy that can run.”
Pittman said the Razorbacks’ coaching staff “hit” with all three freshmen receivers in Mbake, Sategna and 6-2, 182-pound Quincey McAdoo, who went through spring drills.