Pittman Impressed by Defensive Line

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Asked who’s wowed him in Arkansas’ first practice in full pads Tuesday and the four  practices preceding,  Coach Sam Pittman tended toward big guys among his first big names.

His current four first-team defensive linemen, considerably bigger left offensive tackle  and biggest receiver sprang first to his mind. 

“Jon Marshall, Julius Coates, Treylon Burks, (Myron)  Cunningham at (offensive) tackle,” Pittman said.  “Dorian Gerald has certainly flashed. And, Xavier Kelly has been… They’re just big dudes.”

Junior college transfer Coates (listed 6-6, 289)  and senior Gerald, a third-year junior college transfer (6-3, 265)  and starting letterman in 2018 hardshipped in 2019 because of a season-ending bruised neck artery in the season opener, bookend as first-team defensive ends. 

Kelly (6-5, 311) and graduate transfer from Clemson, and  returning senior Marshall (6-3, 317) run first-team defensive tackles.

“They’re hard to move and they can rush the passer,” Pittman said. “I’m not for sure you’re going to have to take them out of the game in third down. I don’t know that I would. Barry (Odom, the defensive coordinator) is  going to make that decision, but them guys are hard to block.”

Apparently Coates is as elusive as he is strong.

“Well, he’s making all kinds of plays,” Pittman said.  “I mean, we can’t hardly block the guy.” 

Cunningham, the 6-7 now 325-pounder bulking as Pittman requested.  Cunningham weighed in the 290s  for former Arkansas Coach Chad Morris last year.

He apparently is throwing bigger blocks as a bigger man.

“Myron, I think he’s going to be really good this year,” sophomore Ricky Stromberg, a starting guard as a true freshman last year operating Tuesday at first-team center flanked by guards Luke Jones, the transfer from Little Rock via Little Notre Dame, redshirt freshman Beaux Limmer and tackles Cunningham and Noah Gatlin, a third-year sophomore redshirted though playing four games as a 2018 freshman sidelined all 2019 by knee surgery.

Pittman said he likes how the offensive line threw  its weight around during Tuesday’s 18 plays of 11 on 11 contact but he said their between series stamina needs work.

“During the plays, I thought we were going extremely hard,” Pittman said.  “But the transition on and off the field was slow.  A  jog off the field, to me, I’m not benefiting while I’m out to practice. I need to run off the field so I can use that extra conditioning, as well. But I did think they played awful hard between the whistles.”

Pittman has praised receiver/punt returner/kick returner Burks every chance he gets.

It goes without saying that senior running back Rakeem Boyd, a 1,133 yards rusher last season even on a miserable 2-10 Arkansas team 0-8 in the SEC, always wows.  Boyd reportedly wowed again with a 50-yard touchdown run during the closed to media portion of Tuesday’s practice.

Wednesday’s practice is entirely closed with no media post-practice interviews then an off day before Friday’s scrimmage.

In the secondary, Pittman cited cornerbacks Jerry Jacobs, the graduate transfer from Arkansas State,  and returnee Montaric Brown.

“Jerry Jacobs had a wonderful practice today,” Pittman said.  “He was all over the field. Certainly Mo Brown has been really good, a consistent player.” 

For general first full pads day assessment, Pittman said, “I thought our ball security was good. I thought everybody played awful hard today.  I liked the physicality of the practice, because that’s what we’re preaching about toughness, about strength, about mental toughness. I thought guys tried to fight through practice a little bit more than what they had in the past.”

With offensive line coach Brad Davis temporarily idled by the what the UA terms “a preexisting condition,” Pittman, an offensive line coach from 1994-2019 including Arkansas, 2013-2015, has coached the O-line some during  practices though more in advisory capacity, he said.

Graduate assistant Ryan Yurachek and Joseph Henry in quality control do most of the O-line coaching in Davis’ absence, Pittman said.

“ I’m over there helping them out a little bit but they’re doing a nice job of meeting with them and coaching them,” Pittman said.  “I think if I took them completely over, I don’t want to lose any of the trust that Coach Davis had with them.  I think Coach Davis will be back in the next couple of days, maybe a week at the longest.”

Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3, Sports Action

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