FAYETTEVILLE – With all the offseason emphasis on Arkansas’ offensive linemen getting bigger comes a big question.
Will they report too big?
Sam Pittman’s huge Razorbacks offensive lines he coached at Arkansas from 2013-2015 were built for former Coach Bret Bielema’s Pro-Style offense and not the uptempo offense that new head coach Pittman and new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles plan to operate this 2020 autumn.
That elephant sized conditioning trap seems looming all the more likely. Since mid March restrictions caused by the corona-virus pandemic cancelled spring football and left the Razorbacks and all college teams training on their own with the schools’ training facilities closed at least until June 1.
New Arkansas offensive line coach Brad Davis acknowledged that normally would be a concern.
But not with him, Davis said.
“I have zero fear of any of the guys doing that,” Davis said. “The reason I say that is our strength coach.”
Pittman, the Georgia offensive line coach for Kirby Smart from 2016-2019, brought Georgia strength coaches Jamil Walker, Arkansas’ head strength coach, and Ed Ellis with him from Georgia.
“Coach Walker is phenomenal,” Davis said. “He is one of the best I’ve ever been around. He gives our guys a plan and we have an unbelievable nutrition department that works with our players on a daily basis. None of that has been interrupted.”
Not even with most of the players training in their home towns or even the ones living off campus in Fayetteville not allowed by SEC decree to work out at the UA’s facilities?
“It isn’t like Coach Walker just e-mails a workout,” Davis said. “There’s contact (via Internet visuals and phone). Our players are being coached and talked to. Our strength staff is available for mentorship, encouragement, instruction all these things during the virus.”
So it’s not unsupervised increase size for size’s sake.
“By no means do we say ‘Get a bag of cheeseburgers and hang out on the couch,” Davis said. “They get workout material and nutritional choices to do it the right way. I’ve had zero fears about our guys getting too big and immobile.”
Pittman and Davis’ offensive line concern stemmed from inheriting a line lightened for the uptempo offense that fired Coach Chad Morris planned to run but never quite implemented getting pushed around in successive 2-10, 2-10 seasons including 0-8, 0-8 in the SEC.
So they are pleased, for example, that Ricky Stromberg, playing as a 6-4, 266-pound true freshman starting guard last season, now approaches 300 pounds and still moved well the last time Davis saw him in offseason conditioning drills before the shutdown.
“He has some goals we set for him in regards what we’d like him to weigh going into the season opener,” Davis said. “He’s highly motivated and showed toughness seems to be highly, highly competitive. We’re excited about him. We expect him to come in at 300 with good weight. Eventually we’d like him at 315.”
That size with mobility is what you see in the SEC, Davis said.
“Coach Pittman and myself share a vision for what an SEC offensive line looks like,” Davis said. “One of my biggest objectives was get these guys bigger, put some muscle mass on them to the point where they could dominate the line of scrimmage, having explosive power and the mass to move people on the line of scrimmage. That was our initial plan.”
A plan that put off spring football truly into spring, a March 29 scheduled start that never happened, to bulk in the winter.
“We took extra time in delaying spring ball to give them some more time in the weightroom to develop that way,” Davis said. “I thought we had a great plan until the virus hit. That was a wrench because I felt our guys were making progress and trending in the right direction.”
Because of Pittman the players make the best of it, said Davis, a former Oklahoma lineman when Pittman coached the Sooners offensive line and Pittman’s graduate assistant when Pittman coached North Carolina’s O-line.
“I can say is I’ve been incredibly impressed with how he’s managed the organization during the virus,” Davis said. “The way he attacks recruiting, the way he has organized our staff and what he has accomplished and his messages to the team, keeping those guys motivated and hungry in spite of the circumstances – I think it’s been masterful.”