FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Among the several — and there are several — concerns about the Arkansas offense entering 2016 revolves around the running game.
Who, many have asked, is going to be the Hogs’ top running back? After all, Bret Bielema has never not had a 1,000-yard rusher in any of his 10 seasons as a head coach at Wisconsin and Arkansas.
After Saturday’s scrimmage — the Razorbacks’ first of the 2016 preseason — the answer to that question might be irrelevant, and not because Arkansas is going to suddenly abandon the run game.
No, the top of the depth chart at running back might not matter because there seem to be two very, very good options, and it looks like Arkansas’ offense might operate at peak efficiency when sophomore Rawleigh Williams III and true freshman Devwah Whaley are each getting their touches.
Unofficially, Williams carried the ball 14 times for 67 yards and a touchdown, while Whaley recorded 13 carries for 95 yards and a score.
The duo’s potential for sharing carries was perhaps most evident late in the scrimmage, on the first live, full-on drive that pitted the first-team offense and the first-team defense against one another.
Williams came out with the first-team offense and picked up 14 yards on the first play, then eight on the second and eight on the third. After a 20-yard Austin Allen-to-Jeremy Sprinkle completion put the Hog offense on the 19-yard line, Williams earned another carry and gained eight more yards.
Then Whaley — one of the top-ranked running backs in last year’s recruiting class — entered the game and scored on an 11-yard run, breaking several tackles before running through a defender to barrel his way into the end zone.
“He’s looked good all camp,” Bielema said of Whaley. “He’s made some nice reads, some nice cuts, but today you saw that gear that I saw in high school film.
“He definitely showed a burst today that hadn’t been seen in practice, I think he turned some guys’ heads.”
Williams, meanwhile, was tackled to the ground Saturday for the first time since his frightening neck injury last October against Auburn that threatened to end his playing career altogether.
He scored a touchdown on a goal-line play that required him to go inside and force his way into the end zone.
“I’m not gonna deny that I was anticipating today a little bit,” Bielema said. I think he might even be quicker than he was a year ago … he has a chance to be a special player.”
Helping the running backs along, of course, was the fact that Arkansas’ inexperienced offensive line improved drastically throughout Saturday’s scrimmage. At first, that group appeared to be vastly overmatched by the Hogs’ impressive D-line, but that changed throughout the day.
Sixth-year senior Kody Walker only carried the ball four times Saturday, although Bielema said that’s because he was limited by a minor injury. The other true freshman tailback — T.J. Hammonds — tweaked his knee during pre-scrimmage warmups and couldn’t play.
Regardless, Arkansas fans worried about having to replace superstar Alex Collins — now a Seattle Seahawk — can breathe a little easier following Saturday’s scrimmage.