Maleek Williams pushing to make an impact

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: August 16, 2018 at 4:33 p.m. - Updated: August 16, 2018 at 4:46 p.m.
Arkansas running back Maleek Williams carries the ball Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, during practice at the university's practice facility in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas running back Maleek Williams carries the ball Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, during practice at the university's practice facility in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — In summing up Arkansas’ backfield depth on media day in early August, coach Chad Morris said redshirt freshman Maleek Williams is a running back who’s not being paid enough attention.

In fact, Morris said no one is talking about him. However, Williams’ development in spring practices raised eyebrows. In the Razorbacks’ first spring scrimmage on March 10, Williams unofficially led Arkansas with 72 yards and a touchdown run on eight carries.

Defensive end Randy Ramsey, who has dealt with a nagging hamstring issue in fall camp, compared Williams’ intense running style to former Texas running back Ricky Williams this spring.

"The physicality, he’s real tough to tackle,” Ramsey said. “You’ve got to bring it when you try to tackle Maleek."

Freshman receiver Mike Woods also chimed in on Williams’ play Wednesday after an Arkansas staff member tweeted a close-up shot of the back in practice.

Williams has the talent and ability to become more than just a complement to veteran running back Devwah Whaley and proven playmakers Chase Hayden and TJ Hammonds. Williams stood out a number of times in the spring and has continued to do so in preseason practices.

“Maleek has had a good camp,” Morris said Thursday. “I talked about him early on. He’s 225 pounds (six percent body fat) and is grasping the offense, as they all are. He’s doing some good things.”

During the portion of practice open to the media on Day 12, Williams ripped off a run of approximately 15 yards between the tackles. Tuesday, in the driving rain, he picked up a first down by outrunning defenders to the edge.

A short time later, he scooped up a rolling Dylan Hays snap intended for Cole Kelley and gained nearly five yards after bouncing to the right side.

Morris said Williams has one speed: wide open. But for the Punta Gorda, Fla., native to be the productive back the coaching staff desires, there are a couple of areas that need improvement. It begins with maintaining tempo for long stretches and preserving the quarterback when called upon.

“He’s got to become better in pass protection and be able to play fast,” Morris added. “Usually out there on the field you’re (on the field) 4-5-6 plays, or however many plays you’re going, and he’s on and off. He’s got to be able to sustain the long term. Some of the things he did in the scrimmage last week was really good.

"I want to see a guy get in there and see how he responds playing six plays, seven plays, has to come off and gets back in there for 5-6 more with all the coaches off the field. We’ll continue to keep pushing him and challenge him to be more consistent and understanding in pass protections, too.”

Given the caution Morris' staff has taken with injured players in fall camp, Williams' early reps will likely continue into next week. Running back TJ Hammonds sprained his left ankle within the first 20 minutes of Thursday's practice and junior college transfer Rakeem Boyd was held out of live tackling periods for precautionary reasons.

Morris sang Williams' praises prior to fall camp, labeling him the most improved of the running backs through the summer months. Should Morris see additional advances in Williams' game, and a semblance of cohesion along the offensive line, the young back could have a greater impact than many initially imagined.

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