FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas running back Maleek Williams should be preparing for prom, his running backs coach Reggie Mitchell pointed out Thursday.
Instead, Williams is spending the spring making a strong case for immediate playing time as a true freshman next fall.
Through 8 spring practices, Williams has been the Razorbacks’ most pleasant surprise. The 2017 early enrollee has dropped nearly 20 pounds since arriving at Arkansas in January and has been putting in extra work on the weekends. Last Saturday, he had 18 carries for 89 yards in a scrimmage.
“There will be a role for him (in 2017),” Mitchell said. “Whether it be special teams or getting a few carries here and there. But he’s going to force us to have to play him just by what he’s shown us so far on the practice field.”
It’s hard to envision Williams receiving regular carries with Rawleigh Williams III, the leading rusher in the SEC last season, and supremely talented sophomore Devwah Whaley on the roster.
However, Mitchell pointed out that Arkansas fully intended to give Kody Walker carries weekly as the third running back last season until he was injured. Williams is making a strong case to step into that role for the upcoming season.
“Maleek Williams has been a great addition to that room,” offensive coordinator Dan Enos said. “He runs extremely hard and very determined with toughness. He’s got good lower-body power and explosiveness, and he’s got really good feel for running and feeling the tempo of things for being a freshman.”
Williams has even been quick to pick up the intricacies of the Razorbacks’ offense. The most notable of those is his pass-blocking ability. The coaching staff has consistently pointed to pass protection responsibilities as the most significant obstacle to playing time for young backs.
“We’re a pro-style offense and the pass game is the hardest thing to pick up,” Mitchell said. “He’s been able to do that. But he’s a conscientious kid. He’ll come in on his own and watch film. We met on Saturdays and on Sundays when he had free time. So, he really wants to do well. I’ve been really impressed with the way he’s been able to pick up the offense.”
The 18 carries for Williams last Saturday were second on the team — 4 more than Whaley and 1 less than Rawleigh Williams. It was an impressive showing for his first performance inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. His physical, fearless running style was on full display as he found holes and challenged tacklers.
“The first run out of the gate wasn’t so good,” Mitchell said. “After that, he got caught up to the speed of the game and I was really impressed with him. For a guy that’s only been here for 7 practices or so, he’s adapted to the college game and the speed of it. The thing I like about him is his toughness and his pad level. He’s done a great job for us so far.”