Of­fen­sive line look­ing like Pittman’s lines of old

The Saline Courier Weekend - - SPORTS - By Nate Allen

FAYET­TEVILLE - Off last sea­son’s Arkansas film, most would pre­sume that new Ra­zor­backs Coach Sam Pittman would start cen­ter Ty Clary and guard Ricky Stromberg where they started last year.

Maybe not.

In their walk­throughs lead­ing into the now Aug. 17 of­fi­cial start of pre­sea­son prac­tice, se­nior Clary of Fayet­teville and sopho­more Stromberg of Tulsa both work at cen­ter.

Pittman ex­plained why on Thursday’s Zoom press con­fer­ence. Coach­ing ma­jor col­lege of­fen­sive lines in­clud­ing Arkansas’ from 2013-2015, then Ge­or­gia’s from 20162019 be­fore his first head coach­ing as­sign­ment since 1992 and 1993 at Hutchin­son (Kan.) Ju­nior Col­lege, Pittman places a pre­mium on cen­ter.

He coached two great ones at Arkansas, Travis Swan­son and Frank

Rag­now, into the NFL plus Spring­dale’s Mitch Smoth­ers de­vel­oped into an out­stand­ing col­le­giate cen­ter.

“The hard­est place to play on the O-line is cen­ter,” Pittman said. “So we’re try­ing to de­velop at least three cen­ters. There­fore, we started look­ing at Ricky at cen­ter, and he’s played a lot of it in these walk­throughs for us. And Ty ob­vi­ously has played cen­ter, as well.”

For the last two years un­der Arkansas’ since ter­mi­nated Chad Mor­ris regime, three-year let­ter­man Clary has started at cen­ter for 23 of Arkansas’s last 24 games.

Stromberg played cen­ter at Tulsa’s Union High.

Clary started four Arkansas games at guard as a 2017 true fresh­man un­der for­mer Ra­zor­backs Coach Bret Bielema.

So there is con­sid­er­able cen­ter/guard flex­i­bil­ity with the two.

“I’m sure if they both would stay at cen­ter, and they’d have a com­pet­i­tive bat­tle there, and then you’d have to see if the one who didn’t win the cen­ter spot, is he in our top five to play for us,” Pittman said.

Though Stromberg was an un­der­weight true fresh­man on a 2-10 team in 2019, he was the most cel­e­brated of Arkansas’ of­fen­sive line­men.

Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus named

him All-fresh­man third team.

Now listed 311 pounds, Stromberg, 6-4, is ex­pected to throw his weight around this fall whether a cen­ter or a guard. Stromberg and se­nior sec­ond-year ju­nior left of­fen­sive tackle My­ron Cun­ning­ham (his 6-7 frame now listed 325 com­pared to last year’s 285) are the poster ex­am­ples of Pittman and strength coach Jamil Walker striv­ing to beef up a scrawny 2019 O-line into more re­sem­bling the be­he­moths when Pittman’s 2014 and 2015 Arkansas O-lines out­siz­ing even NFL O-lines.

“If you look at Ricky, I heard he was 260 (when Stromberg re­ported last sum­mer) and he might be a lit­tle big­ger than 300,” Pittman said. “And you look at My­ron. The key is not only are they get­ting big­ger, but can they move and not lose that quick­ness and gain more power. I’ve been re­ally, re­ally pleased. Jamil Walker, I think we have as good a strength coach as any­body in the coun­try and our kids have done a good job.”

How soon be­fore the Sept. 26 sea­son opener does Pittman want an of­fen­sive line start­ing five and their back­ups es­tab­lished?

“Well, with your first five, you’d prob­a­bly like to do that no later than two and a half weeks be­fore your first game,” Pittman said. “The other guys, 6,7,8, they’ll al­ways swing. Un­til you can get 10 good of­fen­sive line­men, you’ll have your third tackle and you’ll have your third guard and you’ll have your sec­ond cen­ter-guard com­bi­na­tion. I’d like to set­tle in maybe two, twoand-a-half weeks be­fore the first game with ex­actly what we’re go­ing to do. Of course you know in­juries dis­rupt all that.”

Ar­riv­ing at the UA in Jan­uary as a De­cem­ber high school grad­u­ate de­fen­sive end from Hazen, Blayne Toll, 6-5, 234, was sup­posed to learn tight end at the spring prac­tices that never hap­pened be­cause of the mid-march all sports shut­down as the coro­n­avirus COVID-19 pan­demic be­gan its spread.

Now with Fe­bru­ary fresh­man signee de­fen­sive end Jaqualin Mcge­hee not re­port­ing to the UA, Toll starts the Au­gust pre­sea­son a de­fen­sive end again.

“We thought that he could help us watch­ing him run a lit­tle bit and see­ing what his size was,” Pittman said. “We thought he might rush the passer over there a lit­tle bit for us, so we moved him back over to where we orig­i­nally re­cruited him.”

Courier file photo

Arkansas of­fen­sive line­man Ty Clary yells out in­struc­tions in a game last sea­son. The Arkansas O-line is shap­ing up well, ac­cord­ing to Head Coach Sam Pittman.

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