The Arkansas offensive line must be the top priority in preparation for next season. Although many argue that ameliorating the secondary should be the first priority, and its embarrassing performance this past season certainly merits such an assertion, the Hogs have no chance of being successful without a healthy K.J. Jefferson. Jefferson is the most valuable player on the team.
Even if one had a magic wand to correct every problem on the defensive side of the ball, Arkansas would still have a disappointing season in many people’s eyes without a healthy K.J. Jefferson. In “2022 Razorback Football Schedule Demands Excellence,” written before the start of last season, I asserted that the Hogs would not succeed without a healthy K.J. Jefferson. Arkansas did not have the success it desired because Jefferson’s health was not an ostensible focus.
For the team to achieve its expectations next season, the Arkansas offensive line must prepare for consistent achievement.
Arkansas Offensive Line Underperformed Last Season
With Sam Pittman as head coach, the Arkansas offensive line should be one of the team’s greatest assets. Pittman is one of the best offensive line coaches in the nation. However, how poorly the Arkansas offensive line performed last season made it seem that no one was coaching it. To be fair, the offensive line sometimes showed signs of excellence.
The Hogs’ offensive linemen must learn to invest in K.J. Jefferson’s safety. Without a serious investment in Jefferson’s protection, unacceptable results like losing to Liberty University and almost losing to Missouri State University will continue. Sam Pittman is an offensive line coaching genius; however, it is time for the Arkansas offensive line to reflect such genius.
Even though K.J. Jefferson can do a better job of avoiding unnecessary hits, the Arkansas offensive line is ultimately responsible for why he suffered severe injuries last season, including a concussion. While it may seem unreasonable to blame the offensive line for these injuries, it is the brutal truth. When did Jefferson suffer these injuries? They occurred when the offensive line failed to protect him.
Sam Pittman Must Emphasize Physicality
The Arkansas offensive line let Liberty University’s and Missouri’s defensive lines dominate it. A physical and disciplined offensive line is necessary if the Razorbacks want to represent the SEC West in the SEC Championship game. I desire to see more Arkansas linemen who enjoy punishing opposing defenses. I have not witnessed such linemen at Arkansas since Bret Bielema led the Hogs.
Trust me, I am not nostalgic about the days of Bret Bielema as the Hogs’ head coach. However, the Arkansas offensive line can benefit from the emphasis placed on it during Bielema’s tenure.
Ben Sowders to Strengthen the Hogs
Arkansas has hired a new strength and conditioning coach, Ben Sowders. According to Andrew Hutchinson of Best of Arkansas Sports, Ben Sowders is a significant part of the plan to ameliorate the Arkansas offensive line. The Razorbacks have always had an identity of consistent toughness, always challenging their opponents with competitive physicality. As Hutchinson noted, the Arkansas offensive line often did not demonstrate such an identity.
A more profound commitment to hitting the weights can improve this lack of toughness Arkansas did not consistently possess this past season. Although Ben Sowders is primarily responsible for enhancing the team’s strength—not just the offensive line’s strength, Sam Pittman must emphasize to the entire staff that strength and conditioning are central to the Hogs’ success.
If a team wishes to flourish in the SEC, especially the SEC West, it must commit to being the most physical team on the field each game. Toughness is not optional when one plays in the SEC; it is mandatory. A team does not earn brownie points for having strong players in the SEC. Strong players do help SEC teams win, however.
Just as my “Arkansas Razorbacks 2022 Football Preview” revealed last season, the Hogs will face one of the nation’s most demanding schedules again, according to Max Hoover at FanSided. If the team is competitive in the SEC West in the upcoming season, the Arkansas offensive line will be one key reason.
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