It’s no secret that Arkansas football needs to improve its offensive line moving forward and it took a step toward that by landing Keyshawn Blackstock out of the transfer portal.
Originally from Covington, Ga., the 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive lineman announced his commitment to the Razorbacks via Twitter on Monday. It came a day after Hunter Yurachek confirmed the return of head coach Sam Pittman, who could once again be bringing in a large crop of transfers for the 2024 season.
“They treat me like I’m a priority here,” Blackstock said. “They need me. Coach Pittman keeps reminding me of that, so I feel like that’s big.”
Blackstock began his collegiate career at Coffeyville C.C. in Kansas before signing with Michigan State as a heralded member of the 2023 class. His time with the Spartans was short-lived, though, as he opted to leave during the transfer portal window that opened following the firing of head coach Mel Tucker.
Despite being a backup left tackle who had played only 74 offensive snaps, Blackstock immediately became a target for schools across the country, receiving 22 offers from the likes of Baylor, Colorado, Louisville, Ole Miss, Penn State, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech and several other Power Five programs.
He took official visits to North Carolina State and Ole Miss before making his way to Fayetteville for the Auburn game on Nov. 11. Visits to Penn State and Louisville were on the docket, as he planned to wait until December to make his decision, but Blackstock sped up the process by committing about a week after visiting Arkansas.
It likely helped that he had a prior relationship with Pittman from his time at Georgia. Back in April of 2019, when he was just a sophomore at Newton High School, Blackstock actually attended the Bulldogs’ spring game and tagged Pittman in his tweet about the visit.
More recently, he played with a couple of current Razorbacks in junior college. Blackstock was on the same offensive line as backup center Amaury Wiggins and was teammates with walk-on punter Owen Lawson. They weren’t the only ones recruiting him hard for Arkansas, though.
“I really trust those guys and the insight they’ve given me into the program,” Blackstock said. “I feel like that that’s tremendous to me. I talked to (defensive coordinator Travis Williams) and guys like that on the staff and (they’re) like, ‘We need guys upfront. It starts with the trenches.’”
Because he appeared in only four games this season, Blackstock will receive a redshirt and still have two years of eligibility at Arkansas.
The Need for Keyshawn Blackstock
It would be easy to assume that Keyshawn Blackstock visiting for the Auburn game would be bad for Arkansas football’s efforts in landing him. However, the game perfectly illustrated why the Razorbacks need him and may have actually helped.
“They have to come to the game,” Sam Pittman said when asked about recruiting during a tough season. “I can’t tell them if they can play right away or not. They can come to a game, watch us on TV. They can figure out if they think they’re better than somebody that we have on the field now and if they do, obviously you have a much better chance of getting them.”
In the 48-10 blowout loss to the Tigers, Arkansas gave up five sacks and running backs managed only 6 yards on 11 carries. It was a truly abysmal showing, even by this year’s standards — which have been surprisingly low considering how good the offensive line had been the previous three years and given Pittman’s reputation.
Through 11 games, the Razorbacks have allowed 42 sacks, which is dead last in the SEC and tied for 127th out of 133 FBS teams. Their 3.6 yards per carry rank 106th.
The offensive line shouldn’t be blamed for all of that, but it has come nowhere close to what Arkansas football fans have come to expect under Pittman, which is why he openly admitted to targeting the unit when asked about positions he wanted to add via the transfer portal or junior college ranks.
“Certainly, we’ve got to do something with the offensive line,” Pittman said. “You could probably have a pretty good idea of where we might go in the portal or in junior college to enhance our football team. I don’t want to specifically say. I think everyone knows that we’ve got to go get some offensive linemen.”
Fit with Arkansas Football
Thanks to the eligibility relief granted by the NCAA in response to the pandemic, which gives an extra year to players active in 2020, all 16 scholarship offensive linemen could return next season.
Based on Pittman’s comment, though, that is unlikely to happen. On top of the possibility of reserves who’ve never seen the field entering the transfer portal, center Beaux Limmer is viewed as an NFL Draft prospect and will likely turn pro. Left guard Brady Latham is already a four-year starter and may be ready to move on rather than return as a sixth-year super senior. Right guard Josh Braun, the Florida transfer, technically has two years of eligibility left, but he already has a degree and is married, so who knows whether or not he’ll stick around.
Those three have made up the interior of the offensive line for much of the season, while the quartet of Andrew Chamblee, Devon Manuel, Patrick Kutas and Ty’Kieast Crawford have handled most of the snaps at tackle. That is the group Keyshawn Blackstock is expected to compete with for playing time in 2024.
Chamblee and Kutas are second-year players and have been the primary starters, each starting eight games at left and right tackle, respectively. They are also two of the four lowest-graded players on offense, at 51.5 and 53.5, respectively, according to Pro Football Focus.
Manuel was the projected starting left tackle for much of the offseason, but his redshirt sophomore campaign has been marred by various injuries. However, he’s been pretty healthy since the open date and has replaced Chamblee in the starting unit. Pro Football Focus gives him a solid 72.0 grade, so he’s probably a good bet to hold down that spot next year — assuming he stays healthy.
As injury prone as he’s proven to be, though, it would be good for Arkansas if it had someone else ready to fill in at the ultra-important left tackle position. Chamblee could still be that player, but he’s still young and adding Blackstock to the fold could allow him to develop.
That could also allow Chamblee to move to the right side, as Pittman said he’s comfortable on both sides. He could either be a backup to Kutas or a potential starter, which would give the Razorbacks the freedom to slide Kutas inside to guard or center. That latter option could also hinge on whether or not any of the interior starters return and how backup center Amaury Wiggins develops.
It may not seem like it given the results on the field this season, but the Razorbacks have also recruited well up front. Freshman Luke Brown and redshirt freshman E’Marion Harris were four-star prospects coming out of high school and they have another committed in Stanford flip Kai Greer.
Perhaps one of them will make a huge jump this offseason and factor into things in 2024, but it seems like Arkansas is being more aggressive in its efforts to add some veteran help up front this year. In addition to landing Blackstock, the Razorbacks also hosted JUCO offensive lineman Jaekwon Bouldin on an official visit for the FIU game.
Other offensive linemen will likely pop up on Arkansas’ radar when the transfer portal opens up for all players on Dec. 4. It is currently only open to graduate transfers and players on teams that have fired their head coach.
Check out some highlights of recent Arkansas football commit Keyshawn Blackstock from his last JUCO season:
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