Hogs have plenty of hands to feed

Posted: August 12, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Arkansas running backs Devwah Whaley (21), Chase Hayden (2) and T.J. Hammonds (6) pose for a portrait during the Razorbacks' media day on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas Razorbacks Coach Chad Morris believes running back Devwah Whaley was carrying too many pounds along with the ball in spring practice.

"I thought he was overweight," Morris said. "I think he saw [the holes], but just couldn't get into the cut quick enough.

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Running backs

LOSSES David Williams, Maleek Barkley

RETURNING STARTER Devwah Whaley (12 starts in 2017)

WHO’S BACK Chase Hayden, T.J. Hammonds, Maleek Williams, Kendrick Jackson

WHO’S NEW Rakeem Boyd

WALK-ONS Kasey Montrois

ANALYSIS This may be the Razorbacks’ most talented overall position. The coaches should be able to rotate three to five backs to keep fresh legs in the game and utilize them in special packages to fit a variety of skills. There is good depth if injuries hit. Whaley has trimmed down and Hayden has bulked up. Hammonds should be the best receiver of the bunch and has big-play potential. Williams can be a power runner for short-yardage situations. Boyd has a lot of skills, but is having to play catch-up because he didn’t arrive on campus until shortly before fall camp started.

"He knew it and felt it and worked through it hard this summer to get his body in shape and cut his body fat down."

Whaley, a 5-11 junior, said he's down to 209 pounds after weighing 217 in the spring, and he has reduced his body fat from 15 percent to 10 percent.

"I was more disciplined with my diet, and I just stayed working hard," Whaley said. "I bought into everything, not just with the coaches, but also what the strength staff had us doing.

"It paid off. I got a lot of good results and feel a lot better physically. I feel faster, quicker."

Morris said the physical change for Whaley is evident in camp.

"Devwah has looked lighter on his feet, his movement, his plants in the ground and his vision," Morris said. "He sees it and makes the cut. He just looks more explosive."

Whaley started 12 games last season and is the Razorbacks' leading returning rusher with 559 yards and 7 touchdowns, but he figures to get plenty of competition for playing time.

"We've got a lot of talent," sophomore Chase Hayden said. "Everybody in that room can play.

"It's going to be fun to see how the coaches choose who goes out there. But with all of us, all we can do is control what we control and give our best effort and push each other. That will obviously bring out the best in everybody."

Other running backs in the mix are sophomore T.J. Hammonds, junior-college transfer Rakeem Boyd and redshirt freshman Maleek Williams.

"We aren't going to play just one guy," offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said. "We'll find a guy that's hot and ride that horse. Their biggest challenge is selflessness and being able to cheer for each other. Whoever is getting the reps, they're pulling for the guy that's out there."

Craddock said after Saturday's closed scrimmage that the running backs performed well, but also had some fumbles.

"We've got to protect the ball a little bit better," he said. "But I thought all of our running backs ran the ball well. I thought we blocked well up front.

"I mean, it wasn't like they were having to run somebody over, make somebody miss. They had some good holes up front, and they found those holes and they hit it. We had some explosive runs."

Craddock said Whaley gained about 30 yards on a screen pass -- though it was negated by a penalty -- and is a good fit for the Spread offense that the coaching staff brought from SMU.

"He's liking our style of offense because there's only a six-man box and sometimes even five-man boxes," Craddock said. "So it's a lot cleaner look for him. If we'll cover them up up front and give that dude just a little-bitty hole, he's going to hit it."

Hayden, who was held out of the scrimmage with a tight hamstring, rushed 61 times for 326 yards and 4 touchdowns last season before suffering a season-ending leg injury against Auburn.

"I felt like I was getting into a groove -- felt like I belonged -- and then the injury happened," Hayden said. "It was really hard. I had to lean on my parents to get me through it, because I was kind of down for a while -- especially seeing my team struggle so badly. But I got through it."

Hammonds, a junior, said he expects to be utilized in the passing game. He showed his big-play ability last season with 32 carries for 262 yard and 2 catches for 64 yards.

"I feel like I bring multiple skills with the way I can catch the ball and run in the open field," Hammonds said. "I'm really excited about what all the running backs can do in this offense."

Boyd rushed 192 times for 1,211 yards and 14 touchdowns last season at Independence (Kan.) Community College, where he transferred after redshirting at Texas A&M as a true freshman.

Craddock said when the coaches were at SMU they recruited Boyd, who rushed for 6,436 yards and 80 touchdowns at Stratford (Texas) High School in the Houston area.

"We didn't have a chance," Craddock said. "Adding him to the stable of backs that we have is going to bring out the best in everybody."

Williams, 5-11 and 223 pounds, redshirted last year after rushing for 1,294 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior at Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, Fla.

"Everybody was kind of trying to count Maleek out, because we were moving to a Spread offense," Hayden said. "But he's picked it up just as good as anybody. He's been working hard and it's been paying off."

Morris said Williams is the most improved running back since the spring.

"I think his body fat composition is like 6 percent," Morris said. "He knows one speed, and it's wide-open. I'm excited about him."

Craddock said the running backs provide versatility for play calls and matchups.

"Each one has a different skill set," he said. "They aren't a bunch of clones."

Hayden said the coaches have done a good job dividing up reps in practice.

"We've got to have guys who can contribute in practice all the way through [the season]," Craddock said. "So when we get midway through the season to late in the season, everybody's fresh."

Sports on 08/12/2018