Changes could be on horizon for offensive line

FAYETTEVILLE — There could be changes brewing for the University of Arkansas offensive front and at the tight end position after the Razorbacks mustered just 42 rushing yards and a season-low 174 total yards in Saturday’s 34-22 loss to Texas A&M.

Coach Sam Pittman said at his weekly press conference on Monday the coaching staff feels like it has the top five players in place on the offensive line but maybe not in the right positions.

“We’re going to look at some different scenarios up front and see if we can’t … you know … there’s a difference in panic and really reviewing what we’re trying to do and who is trying to do it,” Pittman said. “So we may shake up the offensive line a little bit.”

Indeed, seniors Brady Latham and Beaux Limmer both got looks at new spots during a group drill in the open portion of Monday’s practice, with Latham at right tackle and Limmer at left guard. Additionally, sophomore Patrick Kutas slid from right tackle into Limmer’s center spot.

Pittman also said the tight end position is wide open again as the Razorbacks look to replace super-productive freshman Luke Hasz, who will be out for a while with a broken clavicle suffered against the Aggies on the third offensive snap of the game. 

Hasz had dominated the game reps at tight end, with transfers Var’keyes Gumms and Francis Sherman and fifth-year senior Nathan Bax getting sporadic work prior to the Hasz injury.

Now those three and redshirt freshman Ty Washington will compete to re-establish the depth.

On the line, Limmer and Kutas have started all five games at center and right tackle thus far. 

The offensive captain Latham missed the opener due to concussion symptoms but has started the last four games at his customary left guard spot.

Transfer Josh Braun began the opener at left guard and has been at right guard the last four games. 

Redshirt freshman Andrew Chamblee started the first four games at left tackle before sophomore Devon Manuel recovered enough from various injuries to start against Texas A&M there.

The Razorbacks are looking for an offensive spark after being largely throttled by the Aggies. 

The Razorbacks are averaging 126.6 rushing yards per game, about 110 fewer yards per game than last year, to rank 97th in the nation.

“I don’t know that we can continue to do the same things and say we’re just going to get better at them,” Pittman said. “I think we’ve got to shuffle some things up to maybe ignite a spark into us a little bit because I do think we’ve got good players. We’ve just got to play better and coach better.”

Pittman said the changes could include what was on display on Monday. Limmer has started 28 games at right guard, Kutas has taken action at center and Latham has logged time at tackle.

“You have to practice it and see if what you think might work works in practice,” Pittman said of the position switches.

Pittman suggested each unit on offense can contribute in helping the attack be more productive on both the ground and through the air.

“We’ve got to make some guys miss at running back,” Pittman said. “Our quarterback has to play consistent, and we’ve got to be able to get open. If you look at it offensively, I think a lot of it has been maybe tagged on the offensive line, and there’s certainly problems there. But there’s a lot of areas that we can get better at.”

One player who is likely to stick at his current spot is the left tackle Manuel, who missed time in camp with a concussion, an ankle problem and a stinger.

Pittman said any changes would be made to help players communicate better and lead to more productivity.

“Maybe simplify it,” Pittman said. “Maybe put them by an older guy that can help them, communicate with them, things of that nature. … What happened a little bit with Dev was he didn’t practice basically for three or four weeks and he got behind mentally.

“So he’s got to catch up and the only way I know how to do that is he’s got to rep that. 

“We can’t move him. He’s behind mentally so we have to keep him in that spot, to me. But some of the other guys, with some veterans around them I think will help them.”

Arkansas racked up 335 rushing yards, an average of 7.8 yards per carry, and got three rushing touchdowns from Raheim Sanders in last year’s 42-27 win over Ole Miss.

Pittman, offensive coordinator Dan Enos and offensive line coach Cody Kennedy would like to rediscover that kind of punishing ground game but it has been tough to come by with three new starters on the front, only Latham at his previous position, and new tight ends in Hasz and others.

Arkansas fans have grown accustomed to having productive running attacks under both Pittman as offensive line coach with Enos as coordinator in 2015 and the Pittman-Kennedy combination with coordinator Kendal Briles and a veteran offensive line the last few years. 

Quarterback KJ Jefferson has obviously added to that mix, but his sacks are piling up and he’s on pace for 375 rushing yards over a 12-game season, which would be his career low as a starter.

Arkansas has maxed out at 177 rushing yards in its 38-31 loss at BYU on Sept. 16, and it had 172 the week before in a hard-fought 28-6 win over Kent State.

Pittman said Kennedy has proven himself a quality line coach and will find a solution.

“We’ve got a great offensive line coach,” Pittman said. “The same one that we had when we led the Power 5 in rushing two years ago and the same one that everybody tries to get when the season’s over with. … He’ll get it fixed as good as anybody can.”

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