Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Running backs all No. 1
Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams runs the ball in the third quarter of the Razorbacks' 38-20 loss to South Carolina on Nov. 10, 2012 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.
FAYETTEVILLE Through four days of preseason practices there is no clear cut No. 1 in the Arkansas backfield and that's the way the Razorbacks coaches want it.
Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins and Kody Walker are among the players to take snaps with Arkansas' first team offense at running back. Kiero Small and Patrick Arinze have rotated on the first team at fullback. Running backs coach Joel Thomas said it's too early to tell who will get the most snaps when the season starts, but he hopes to identify the Razorbacks' go-to back soon.
"You'd always like to have your guy," Thomas said. "You have your starter who is a player who will go the first two series. Sometimes you have your third down guy and getting situational players. Obviously you'd like every single player to be able to step in there for every situation and not miss a beat.
"I know where my mind is leaning but right now I want to see where this thing is going."
In addition to working players with different offensive personnel, Thomas said he has rotated players into different scenarios.
"Today I had Nate Holmes in a third-and-short situation and I don't think last spring I would have even thought about that," Thomas said. "I do that so I can start setting them up for success in certain situations in a game."
Leading returning rusher Jonathan Williams said the group has been patient while taking their turns.
"Everybody is making each other better," Williams said. "We are trying to help each other out, learning the offense and stuff like that. The more competition there is, the better we'll be.
"We've got a good group of running backs, so it's not like the load is just on me."
Collins, the heralded freshman from south Florida, is expected to take much of that load off Williams and has shown flashes of his ability, Thomas said. Coaches will get their best look at him Friday when the team practices in full pads for the first time.
"I think the fact he was here this summer (helps) and that's a direct reflection of the leadership of this offense," Thomas said. "If he was here this summer and nobody was telling him what to do, he wouldn't be where he's at right now. Our kids did a great job of teaching him and getting him to learn our scheme and our system, and the tempo we're going to coach him at.
"He hasn't missed a beat in terms of effort. We're high on that. He hasn't missed a beat as a freshman. We've got to keep feeding him and see where his ceiling is at."
Second Down: Fully engaged
A pair of Arkansas offensive linemen will be juggling game plans with wedding plans this fall.
Center Travis Swanson and guard Mitch Smothers were engaged to their girlfriends shortly before the start of preseason practices. Smothers proposed on the 50-yard-line of Razorback Stadium.
"I asked her if she wanted to see these new facilities and when we got here, I told her we had to see the old lockers first and that's when I took her onto the field and that's when it happened," Smothers said. "It was pretty special. I know whenever I'm playing or whenever we come back to watch games it's something we can remember."
Although he and Swanson asked their fiancees to marry them around the same time, Smothers said that it was neither planned, nor a race.
"It was a coincidence," he said. "When I told him I was planning to do it, he said he was thinking about it too, so it was a coincidence.
"I guess love is in the air."
Arkansas tackle Grady Ollison said he can only speak for himself, but he knows not all five of the projected starters will be getting engaged before the season begins.
"This one? No sir," Ollison told a reporter.
Third Down: Pittman looking for elite eight
Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman said he is not concerned about two of his offensive linemen being engaged, but he is still looking for reserves to fill in behind them.
Even before fall camp began, Pittman has stressed the need to find eight offensive linemen that can play in the Southeastern Conference.
"We're looking at some guys in some different spots, but it might be different tomorrow," Pittman said Thursday. "We need to find eight. We need to find a backup center, we need to find a backup guard for both sides, we need to find a backup tackle. So we're looking at a few guys."
Among the prospects to fill in behind the first-team offensive linemen could be four freshmen. Arkansas signed Denver Kirkland, Dan Skipper and Reeve Koehler on signing day and added walk-on Austin Boice.
"Obviously, we're addressing the freshmen guys," Pittman said. "We haven't given them too many reps to this point. We gave them a little bit more today, so we're trying to find out if they're going to be able to help us this year or not.
"They're' doing a good job. They're three smart kids. Four, actually, with Austin Boice coming in. So they've done a good job. They're hanging out together. We're real pleased with those guys."
Another newcomer that joined the team in the spring, junior college transfer Jonathan McClure, has made strides as well, according to Pittman.
"He's gotten better," Pittman said of McClure. "His feet are quicker. I love the kid. He's just got to keep improving, but he's a wonderful kid and he's done a nice job."
Fourth Down: Hartfield adds depth
Melvinson Hartfield, a freshman wide receiver from Dallas, added depth to the Arkansas receiving corps, according to senior teammate Demetrius Wilson.
"He has great talent," Wilson said of Hartfield. "He's got great hands and good speed. We're just waiting for him to get down that playbook and get right, but he definitely has the chance to be a big asset to this team."
Hartfield played both offense and defense for South Oak Cliff High School and recorded 12 receptions for 324 yards and four touchdowns on offense during his senior season. He chose the Razorbacks over Kansas State and Texas Tech.
After receiving clearance from the NCAA, he joins a receiving corps that has lost three players since spring practices. Bret Bielema announced Mekale McKay, who finished last season as Arkansas' fourth-leading receiver, is looking to transfer. The Razorbacks also lost backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who recorded 17 receptions for 272 yards at wide receiver in 2012, and former wide receiver Keante Minor, who worked out as a running back in the spring.
Arkansas also lost the top three pass catchers from 2012. That list included Cobi Hamilton, the Razorbacks' all-time leading receiver, running back Dennis Johnson and tight end Chris Gragg.