Arkansas Position Analysis: Running Backs:

Collection of RBs excites new Razorbacks staff

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Arkansas running back Devwah Whaley tries to run through a tackle attempt of safety Santos Ramirez during the Razorbacks' spring game Saturday, April 7, 2018, in Little Rock.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas running back Devwah Whaley tries to run through a tackle attempt of safety Santos Ramirez during the Razorbacks' spring game Saturday, April 7, 2018, in Little Rock.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Arkansas Razorbacks had their streak of consecutive seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher halted at four last year.

Whether the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville starts a new streak in 2018 hinges largely on whether one clear-cut runner emerges to take the bulk of the carries and whether the Hogs' offense establishes balance in Chad Morris' first year as head coach.

Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock seems content with the collection of talent that will wrap up spring drills today for position coach Jeff Traylor.

Devwah Whaley is the returning starter as a junior, while T.J. Hammonds, Chase Hayden, Maleek Williams, Maleek Barkley and summer transfer Rakeem Boyd give the tailbacks a mixture of power, speed and tackle-breaking talent.

"Without giving too much away, I really, really like our backs," Craddock said late in spring drills.

Craddock might as well have accompanied the comment with a wink.

"We've got a good stable of running backs," he said. "Getting Rakeem in here will add another dimension, but really, really pleased with those guys and what we've got on the roster so far. We've got some really good backs."

Each of the backs has shown flashes of excellence this spring, and Whaley, Hayden and Hammonds have produced in games for the Hogs.

Whaley tallied 559 yards and 7 touchdowns in 11 starts last season, while senior transfer David Williams added a team-high 656 yards, 8 touchdowns and 5.6 yards per carry in a reserve role.

Before he suffered a foot injury in the seventh game against Auburn, the true freshman Hayden was leading the team with 326 rushing yards and four touchdowns and had established himself as a dangerous Wildcat quarterback and pass catcher.

Late in the year, Hammonds made a move, and the sophomore compiled 262 rushing yards and a touchdown, had a 60-yard receiving touchdown and led the backs with 8.2 yards per carry.

At fullback, Kendrick Jackson and Hayden Johnson were solid lead blockers and change-of-pace pass catchers, though the role is now more of an H-back spot in the new offense.

Traylor and the offensive brain trust are charged with fitting together the talents into a hurry-up attack that would like to spread defenders and create running lanes.

Whaley opened the Red-White game Saturday with runs of 6, 2 and 17 yards on bread-and-butter runs to give an indication of what the run game could look like.

"It's going to be fast tempo, with speed, speed, speed," Whaley said. "That's all Coach Morris talks about, and that's what we're about, razor fast."

Hayden described the new offensive schemes as more clear.

"You're not facing a lot of nine-man boxes and things like that," Hayden said. "Really there's a lot more clearer holes and you kind of hit it."

Hammonds expanded on that angle.

"There's so much open space out there and so you can bring your talents out, you can show what you're capable of," he said. "I feel like that's what all our running backs have."

Whaley and Maleek Williams lost weight over the winter to become faster and have more stamina in the new system.

"We've got a good rotation right there," Morris said of the tailback group. "We've got a few ... busts in how fast we're trying to play. There's a lot of thinking that's required.

"So we're going to let them continue to play fast and let them make mistakes on the field right now, and coach them up in the film room. I think coach Traylor is, as we all have been, pleased with where we're at with our running backs."

There's no Alex Collins in the bunch, but redshirt freshman Maleek Williams might remind fans of Collins -- the three-time, 1,000-yard rusher as a Razorback -- with his hair flowing out of his helmet. Williams is also from South Florida, like Collins.

The redshirt freshman dropped 15 pounds to reach 215 this spring, and he looks like he can contribute in the rotation.

"I feel explosive, and I feel like I can be more efficient at this weight, rather than just bowl over people and be like gassed," Williams said.

"Maleek, at first, was struggling to learn the offense," Craddock said. "But man, once we kind of got into him a little bit ... he's done a really good job. He's gotten loose a lot.

"He's broken some tackles, made some shifty cuts and done a really, really good job thus far."

Craddock advised Williams to study video of Marshawn Lynch, the power back who has rushed for more than 10,000 yards in the NFL with the Bills, Seahawks and Raiders.

Picking up blitzing defenders remains a key ingredient for playing time in the backfield, as will making catches in the new schemes.

"Like coach Traylor said, he told us when we first met with him, 'You're gonna have to catch the ball. If you can't catch the ball, you're not gonna play,' " Hammonds said. "Same thing with pass protection. He told us we're all here because you can run a ball. Now how can you separate yourself?"

The answers to that will be revealed in the fall.

Sports on 04/11/2018

Running backs glance

Returning starters Devwah Whaley (11 starts at TB in 2017), Kendrick Jackson (5 starts at FB)

Losses David Williams, FB Hayden Johnson (now a TE/H-back)

Who’s back Chase Hayden, T.J. Hammonds, Maleek Williams

Who’s new Rakeem Boyd (fall), Maleek Barkley (moved from WR)

Walk-ons Justice Hobbs, Casey Montrois

Analysis

All the backs on the roster have skill sets that could translate into heavy playing time, so sorting out the snaps at this position will be delicate. Whaley has starting experience and is a solid pass protector, and he’d like to shed the image of being only a between-the-tackles option. Hayden and Hammonds are the best speed options, and each is shifty in the open field. Maleek Williams had a strong spring and brings power and agility. Transfer Rakeem Boyd’s fit will be intriguing to see.

Discussion

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