FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas tried to find ways to get freshman running back T.J. Hammonds on the field during the 2016 regular season.
Hammonds was a kick returner and featured as a “wildcat” quarterback against Texas A&M. This was in addition to becoming the third running back midway through the season. The efforts to get Hammonds the ball resulted in one kick return, and 14 carries for 86 yards with a touchdown.
There simply weren’t enough opportunities to go around, leaving Hammonds as the odd man out. Sophomore running back Rawleigh Williams III had the lion’s share of the carries and led the SEC in rushing. Freshman Devwah Whaley became an impressive backup for Williams. Arkansas had no reason to try Hammonds at wide receiver, a position crowded with upperclassmen.
Next season will likely be different. After taking time to analyze this 2016 season, Arkansas coaches realized Hammonds likely needs more touches. Those could come as soon as the Belk Bowl on Dec. 29 against Virginia Tech (4:30 p.m. CT, ESPN).
Hammonds’ “production numbers from when he touched the ball were very, very good,” coach Bret Bielema said Monday. “So we said to ourselves, ‘Why don’t we have him touch the ball more?’ I think that’s the case that if we can get him maybe half a dozen to 10 touches on the ball he would be a nice asset for us. Plus, just going forward into next year.”
Versatility training for backs
And going forward into next year, expect to see Hammonds featured as a slot receiver. His versatile skill set suggests he can spend time there or in the backfield. As a senior at Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock, Hammonds had 27 receptions for 662 yards and 6 touchdowns in addition to rushing for 1,404 yards and 22 scores.
“There’s a group of guys that we’re probably going to dual train at multiple positions once we get through this bowl game that I think can be valuable for us,” Bielema said. “I think you take a look at him, T.J. could probably have value as a wide receiver or a running back.”
Hammonds isn’t the only young player the Hogs envision an expanded role. Bielema said freshman fullback Hayden Johnson is another player who likely to get dual training this offseason.
“Hayden Johnson I think is a guy that’s just a very, very talented player that when he’s splitting time with Kendrick Jackson, we run the fullback maybe 30 snaps a game, and split that between those two guys,” Bielema said. “Where if he could be a little bit of a tight end help, maybe help us as an H-back. A moving fullback kind of like what we did with Jeremy Sprinkle (in 2015). I think that has a lot of merit. Then maybe a couple other guys as well.”
Jackson is a sophomore. Sprinkle is a senior.