BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
It appears Arkansas’ four returning starters on the offensive line have a fifth locked in for the 2022 season.
Former Pulaski Academy standout Luke Jones (6-5, 320), who started his college career at Notre Dame, has apparently locked up the open left tackle spot.
Jones has joined four other seniors center in Ricky Stromberg (6-4, 318), guards Brady Latham (6-5, 303) and Beaux Limmer (6-5, 300) and right tackle Dalton Wagner (6-9, 337) as first-teamers in workouts.
“He’s done a very good job,” Arkansas offensive line coach Cody Kennedy said after Monday’s practice. “He’s kind of like that blue collar story. He came in here, flirted around with the guard spot throughout spring, then obviously we had Myron Cunningham leave so there was a void there (at left tackle).
“He’s stepped up and done a really, really good job. Just handles his business. I think at times that’s kind of what you need at left tackle. You need a left tackle you can trust. Obviously in the NFL that’s why they pay them the big bucks. They need somebody they can trust and he’s been really sound out there.”
The fact that Jones has not been talked about much during preseason camp, which continued with Arkansas’ ninth practice on Monday morning, is a good thing according to Razorback head coach Sam Pittman.
“I told Cody the other day, ‘You know, we don’t talk a whole lot about him.’ And if you don’t talk about an O-lineman a whole lot, that’s a good thing, because he’s not sitting out there getting embarrassed,” Pittman said Saturday. “Luke’s done a really good job. I mean, he really has. They put a lot of guys over him, the hardest guy to block coming is Drew Sanders. He’s a hard guy to block, long and strong, but he’s done a nice job over there.”
Jones played in all 13 games last season with 33 snaps at left guard and 16 at left tackle after playing in 10 games with 89 offensive snaps in 2020.
Jones, who did not play as true freshman in his only year at Notre Dame, feels good about how camp has gone for him and is a long way from the 290-pound Irish freshman.
“Yeah, I’m about 320 right now,” Jones said. “Probably the heaviest I’ve been, but I feel like I’m moving better than I ever have. I feel like great work in the offseason. We have a great strength staff. That’s helped me prepare, helped all the guys on our team prepare…We have a big, strong O-line and ready to roll.”
Blocking Sanders, a transfer from Alabama who lines up at linebacker and on the edge, is a challenge that Jones believes is making him better.
“Drew is a great player,” Jones said. “He’s fast tall, long. Great hands. The speed and the power. He’s a great player. So it’s good against him every day to get me ready for the season.”
Between Notre Dame and Arkansas, Jones has worked at center, both guards and both tackles.
“It’s more of like you’re on an island, one on one,” Jones said of playing tackle. “More one-on-one scenarios than on the inside. Moving people on the outside you’ve got to be better with your hands and feet. But I think it’s been a great experience for me to go from center to guard to tackle to center and playing all five of those spots. It’s been good.”
Jones says he is at ease playing both guard and tackle.
“I’m comfortable at both,” Jones said. “I feel I can play both. But I’ve gotten more comfortable at tackle with the time I’ve been out there this year.”
Devon Manuel (6-9, 335) and freshman Andrew Chamblee (6-6, 311) are working behind Jones at left tackle while Ty’Kiest Crawford (6-5, 347) and freshman E’Marion Harris(6-7, 335) are backing up Wagner at right tackle.
“Andrew has great feet,” Jones said. “I’m very excited to see him come along. He’s made great progressions in his pass-pro game. Devon’s a great player, too. He’s got great size. Great in the run game. Very physical guy. Good players.”
Many thought Crawford might push Jones.
“…We haven’t felt the need to move Ty’Kieast Crawford over there yet, which I thought going into camp that we may press Luke a little bit more with Ty’Kieast, but I don’t think we need to,” Kennedy said. “ Ty’Kieast played several reps with the 1s at right tackle today, as well.
“He didn’t start. But he’s done a really good job, so I don’t think there’s really any need to do more than what we’re doing with getting Devon Manuel ready and Brady Latham, as well, has an opportunity to play left tackle, which he has at practice and he did today, actually.”
Latham is enjoying being on the left side of the line with Jones.
“So, I feel like super comfortable playing next to Luke,” Latham said. “He’s a really calm presence, so that’s really nice on the offensive line. Me and Luke have been really good friends for a long time, so it’s fun for us to play next to each other.”
What is it going to take get 10 wins after going 9-4 last season?
“I think just being more consistent as a team without pre-snap penalties,” Jones said, “and things like experience that we have, so much of all leading into this year of guys just being closer than I’ve ever seen this team be, closer than before, and just experience and knowledge of the game is gonna help us a lot this year.”
Photo by John D. James