FAYETTEVILLE – Upon the coronavirus COVID-19 worldwide disruption commenced last March Sam Pittman made a snap decision.
If the Razorbacks indeed would get to play what likely would be a football season of players availability in and out of COVID testing protocols, Arkansas’ new head coach would have a half dozen prepared to be the center of attention.
“It all starts with the snap,” Pittman said regarding the center starting every football play.
So since the Razorbacks started practice Aug. 17 to this postponed revised to entirely 10-games all SEC schedule starting Saturday against Georgia, former Arkansas offensive line coach Pittman had offensive line coach Brad Davis variously cross training guards Ricky Stromberg, Ty Clary, last year’s starting center, Beaux Limmer, Shane Clenin, Luke Jones and Austin Nix at center.
If all are available, it would seem Stromberg would start at center and Limmer at right guard with Brady Latham at left guard, Myron Cunningham at left tackle and either Dalton Wagner or Noah Gatlin at right tackle.
That’s if all are available. Add to the injuries that inevitably occur in preseason, the quarantines to any testing positive for COVID-19 symptoms or contact traced closely associated with somebody testing COVID-19 positive and positions can rapidly thin to threadbare.
Especially with three COVID tests spread throughout the week.
“We’ve had a few injuries that affect who we want to play on the line,” Pittman said. “But we look on that as a positive because we’ve found more players. I think we’ll be fine there. I think we’re sitting in good shape there to put a quality offensive line out there.”
They’ll need the best offensive line they can muster.
Nationally No. 4 Georgia comes into Saturday’s 3 p.m. SEC Network televised game at Reynold Razorback Stadium regarded among the defensive elite.
This doesn’t involve horoscopes, but it’s in the stars indicating the odds looming against Arkansas vs. Coach Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs.
On the SEC Football Coaches first through third Preseason All-SEC teams the Razorbacks are outnumbered by Bulldogs, 9-1.
Senior running back Rakeem Boyd, rushing ,133 yards last year despite Arkansas’ 2-10 overall/0-8 records, is the lone Razorback honored making the Coaches the second team.
Georgia, the reigning SEC East champion off a 12-2 overall, 7-1 SEC campaign, placed two on the first-team defense, defensive lineman Jordan Davis and defensive back Richard LeCounte.
The SEC Coaches Preseason Second team includes Bulldogs center Trey Hill and receiver George Hill on offense and from Georgia’s renowned defense defensive lineman Malik Herring, and linebackers Monty Rice and Nakobe Dean and defensive back Eric Stokes with linebacker Nolan Smith named third team.
On special teams, Georgia punter Jake Camarada was voted to the second team.
The Razorbacks do have the SEC quarterback experience advantage Saturday.
Pittman, Georgia’s offensive line coach from 2016-2019, and Smart both Saturday will start quarterbacks who never started for their teams before.
But Arkansas’ starting quarterback, graduate transfer Feleipe Franks started 24 games from 2017-2019 for the Florida Gators.
He started all 13 for the 2018 Gators’ 10-3 team amassing 2,457 passing yards with 24 touchdowns vs. six interceptions. And he started last season’s first three games, his season ended by a Game Three broken ankle since healed.
In the summer it was presumed Georgia would start graduate transfer quarterback Jamie Newman from Wake Forest but after some conferences withdrew playing fall sports because of COVID concerns Newman on Sept. 2 withdrew to concentrate preparing for the 2021 NFL draft.
Another grad transfer, JT Daniels, the 2018 Southern California Trojans quarterback idled for all of 2019 by a still lingering knee injury during that season’s opener, or D’Wan Mathis, the redshirt freshman missing the 2019 for emergency surgery to remove a cyst from his brain, will start for Smart.
Mathis has logged the most recent first-team practice time.