FAYETTEVILLE – Seems with every Arkansas coaching change some heretofore somewhat obscured Razorback suddenly shines like a polished gem.
Count fifth-year senior defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall and fifth-year senior tight end Blake Kern among the unexpected gems that Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman discovered almost like overlooked diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park.
Both Razorbacks date back to the Bret Bielema era reporting as freshmen and redshirting in 2016 and weathered the 4-8 overall/ 1-7 2017 under Bielema and the consecutive 2-10 overall/0-8 SEC campaigns of the Chad Morris regime for 2018 and 2019.
Marshall, a scholarship recruit from Shepherd, Texas, has lettered since 2017 and missed but one game those three years.
Always, though, Marshall played second banana behind 2019 graduated tackle T.J. Smith.
A good player and better person, Smith did fine. But never with the impact that Marshall has impacted these 3-3 in the SEC Razorbacks under Pittman.
Seldom has Pittman seen a Razorback say so little yet lead so much. It’s why the Razorbacks voted their literally strong silent type as the strongest Razorback a defensive team captain.
So whether righting a defensive line pitching a second half shutout in Arkansas’ 24-13 triumph over Tennessee after trailing, 13-0 at half last Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium,
“Of course Jon Marshall is a guy that we certainly count on,” Pittman said.
Certainly his teammates do.
Arkansas safety Jalen Catalon, 12 tackles with an interception and forcing a fumble against Tennessee, said he doesn’t have those stats without Marshall and the D-line he leads forging as the force at the front.
“Jonathan Marshall, I mean he doesn’t have the stats of 10 tackles or anything like that but he caused havoc down there,” Catalon said of the 6-3, 317-pounder plugging holes and redirecting Vols for linebackers Bumper Pool and Grant Morgan and Catalon and safety Joe Foucha to tackle a combined 48 times.
“ J. Marsh especially controls the line of scrimmage most of the time,” Catalon said. “And he just causes havoc. Running backs have to cut back and do things because he’s just such a weapon and such a distraction up there.”
Kern of Lamar walked on redshirting in 2016 and other than losing an eligibility year virtually redshirted again on the 2017 scout team.
It seems Bielema collected tight ends like attics collect dust.
So Kern’s lettering in 2018 featured just 10 plays at tight end and the rest on special teams.
Kern logged 216 plays at tight end and special teams in 2019 but never was thrown a pas
Thus year he’s caught 11 for 132 yards from quarterback Feleipe Franks. In Arkansas’ 24-13 triumph over Tennessee last Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Kern caught 3 for 40 yards, one in Arkansas’ 24-point third quarter a 6-yard touchdown and another for 10 to the 2 setting up a touchdown.
Upon a media member postgame marveling at Kern’s production, Pittman said he marvels, too.
“Yeah, isn’t that something,” Pittman said. “He’s really done well this year. I don’t know what he did last year and all that stuff. But the guys’ valuable. I think he probably didn’t play much before. I don’t know. So we must’ve had some really good tight ends.”
This year he’s got two, Hudson Henry, the 6-4, 249 redshirt freshman starter who has caught 15 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown but in an out of the Tennessee game playing through injuries, and Kern, 6-4, 269.
“He (Kern) has really got a lot of value,” Pittman said. “His blocking’s getting better and he can catch the football. You know he runs pretty well with it when he catches it, so very, very proud of him.”
Graduate transfer Franks sure appreciates him. Paying his dues these past four years has taught Kern what to do and how to do it.
“Kern’s an experienced guy,” Franks said. “Every time he goes out there he’s very deceiving. A big guy and has a little bit of wheels.”
And if not wheeling and catching then selflessly blocking.
“He’s works hard, does what he’s supposed to do,” Franks said. “You never hear him complain about anything. He just goes out there and does his job, and he does it well. Week in and week out, he does his job.”
Their next job awaits vs. the 4-1 nationally No. 6 Florida Gators at 6 p.m. (CST) Saturday on ESPN from the Gators “Swamp” in Gainesville.
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3, Sports Action