FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — For all the questions surrounding the Arkansas Razorbacks football team in 2017, one thing that appears pretty secure is its situation at running back.
Junior Rawleigh Williams III led the SEC in rushing yardage last season. Uber-talented sophomore Devwah Whaley rushed for 602 yards as a true freshman in 2016, but took several games to become more involved with the offense.
Arkansas completed its 7th practice of the spring Tuesday and after it ended, Whaley spoke to reporters for the first time in several months.
Asked how good of a tandem he believes he and Williams can be in 2017, Whaley said, “I feel like we can be a very good tandem this year. Maybe even be the best. That’s the goal.
“We each want to be the best and we have to continue to push each other so we can reach our goals.”
Despite the strong production from Arkansas’s top two rushers in 2016, the team as a whole ranked 10th in the SEC and 77th in the country in yards rushing per game. Those are decidedly un-Bielema-like numbers.
But there is reason to believe things can improve in that area next season. Arkansas returns an experienced offensive line and, as mentioned, Williams and Whaley. Razorbacks coaches have been excited about what they’ve seen from true freshman and early enrollee Maleek Williams this spring, and are adding another highly-touted freshman in Chase Hayden this summer.
Then there was the first 2017 spring scrimmage last weekend, when the Hogs got a total of 363 rushing yards on 51 carries from Rawleigh Williams, Maleek Williams and Whaley.
“We wanted to put an emphasis on the run game,” said quarterback Austin Allen, “and I thought the O-line came out with an attitude, an edge and I thought they blocked up everyone. The running backs ran hard, broke arm tackles.”
The real key to a bigger breakthrough in the Arkansas run game next season, though, is probably Whaley. He was one of the most highly-recruited running backs in the country in 2016 and is pushing Rawleigh Williams in practice, coach Bret Bielema said Saturday.
Williams and Whaley could potentially be the type of tandem Arkansas had in 2014 with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.