FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Guess what Arkansas fans? T.J. Hammonds is expected to have an increased role against Ole Miss this Saturday.
OK, you can stop laughing now. This time it should be for real. But based on past experience, no one will blame you for not getting your hopes up just yet.
This has been the story seemingly every week this season. Arkansas coaches claim Hammonds, a running back/wide receiver who has displayed big-play ability, will see the field more than ever. Then, Saturday comes and goes with the sophomore from Little Rock hardly playing, let alone touching the ball.
The plan to get Hammonds more involved should finally come to fruition in Oxford, Miss., on Saturday with the Hogs desperately needing him.
Freshman running back Chase Hayden is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season with a lower leg fracture. Hayden ends his season as the Razorbacks’ leading rusher. He’s a dynamic, explosive, change-of-pace back whose talents are rare. Luckily for the Hogs, the have another player with nearly an identical skill set: Hammonds.
Hammonds was signed as a running back out of Joe T. Robinson High School in the 2016 class. He played the position last fall before switching primarily to wide receiver in the offseason. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema called him early Monday to discuss the idea of a switch back to his original spot and the decision was quickly made.
“He was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when I called him [Monday] morning,” Bielema said. “He had a 9:40 class and I said, ‘Can I see you before?’ and he was at my door in like 5 minutes. He was like Superman. I think he’s excited to get out there.”
When Hammonds has gotten the ball, he’s proven he can be electrifying. Over two seasons he has 22 carries for 144 yards, an average of 6.5 yards per carry. Each time he rips off a big gain, questions arise from fans and media as to why the coaching staff has kept him mostly on the shelf.
The primary excuse has been injuries, though that doesn’t hold much water. Hammonds had minor knee surgery in August before each of his seasons in Fayetteville. Still, he was cleared to play by Week 2 in 2016 and received 3 carries in the opener this season.
He also had a foot injury that made him a game-time decision against South Carolina three weeks ago. But he played in that game and looked just fine with runs of 10 and 12 yards.
So, while there have been injuries, he hasn’t been officially out but one game in his career.
All of that, though, is in the past. With the Hogs off to a 2-5 start, they are more than happy to look to the future. A future that should include more Hammonds.
“We are going to find a role for him,” said running backs coach Reggie Mitchell. “How big that will be will depend on his learning curve as far as what he picks up. We want to put him in a position where he will be able to be successful. He is going to get probably about 10 to 15 carries and we will go from there.”
If what Mitchell projects is true, Hammonds will have at least double the carries Saturday than he’s had any game previously in his career. That’s music to the ears of Arkansas fans, who are keeping their fingers crossed it actually happens.