FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — For as long as Bret Bielema has been a head coach, his preference at running back has been to have three in the stable. At Arkansas, he hasn’t had the opportunity to do that quite as much.
That might be changing in 2017.
Bielema has two in the “old” guard, of course. Rawleigh Williams III, a junior, led the SEC in yards rushing during the regular season last year. Devwah Whaley, the team’s No. 2, had another 602 yards.
Yet Arkansas was far from being known as a running team. When it came to yards rushing per game as a team, the Razorbacks were only 10th in the SEC and 77th in the country. The 77th is, by far, the lowest national ranking a Bret Bielema rushing offense has ever had.
- 2006 – 37th
- 2007 – 21st
- 2008 – 14th
- 2009 – 15th
- 2010 – 12th
- 2011 – 11th
- 2012 – 13th
- 2013 – 21st
- 2014 – 26th
- 2015 – 34th
- 2016 – 77th
A lot of Arkansas’ difficulties had to do with the offensive line. Some of it had to do with Bielema and Arkansas not having a viable third running back for a good chunk of the season. Kody Walker’s injury about halfway through the season left the Razorbacks with almost no experience in the backfield. Walker still finished the year third on the team in rushing with 109 yards on 33 carries in eight games.
While it might not be the most important thing for Bielema and offensive coordinator Dan Enos to find a third running back, doing so could go quite a way in re-establishing Arkansas as a dangerous running team.
The best bets for that are freshmen. Maleek Williams and Chase Hayden are two members of the Class of 2017 who fit the mold. Williams is already on campus and going through spring practice. Bielema spoke highly of him after Saturday’s first padded practice of camp.
“Maleek Williams is very impressive through three practices,” Bielema said. “He’s got good size. He’s down to 219 (pounds). He came in I believe at 236. Through two practices as a true freshman who came in January, one mental bust through two college practices is pretty impressive.”
In the meantime, Williams and Whaley will hold down the fort. Fingers crossed across campus, though, neither takes an injury, lest shades of 2015 return, when Jonathan Williams was lost for the year before the season began.