FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The moment Rawleigh Williams III went down — and stayed down — during Arkansas’ final spring practice, thoughts immediately, from everyone in attendance, focused on his well-being. The hope was he hadn’t hurt his neck again, just more than a year after breaking it.
When it was established Williams would be OK in that regard, relatively speaking, the forward-thinking began to wonder what was next for the Razorbacks. Yes, the Hogs still had Devwah Whaley, but at that point, he was the only non-freshman scholarship player on the entire roster.
A few months later, Whaley remains the breadwinner for Arkansas at running back. To the surprise of no one, it should be added. But coach Bret Bielema teams have never solely relied on a single workhorse back. The closest they have come was two years ago when Alex Collins saw the lion’s share of the carries after Jonathan Williams was lost for the year with a broken foot in camp.
Whaley is big, fast and established. He ran for more than 600 yards as a freshman squire to Rawleigh Williams last season. Some scouting services had him pegged as a 5-star recruit coming out of high school, too. Just about everyone in and around the Arkansas program thinks he is on his way to becoming a quality SEC back.
David Williams appears to be next Williams in line to get carries at Arkansas in 2017. The South Carolina graduate transfer has factored in with his new teammates. Not surprising considering he is an older player. Also not surprising when taking into account Williams arrived in Fayetteville as a career backup. He was never the primary ball carrier at South Carolina. The role perfectly fits him and he’s a bit of a mentor to Whaley.
“There ain’t nobody doing a better job of coaching him [Whaley] up or being around him [than Williams]. Devwah Whaley, from when I brought him on his recruiting visit to you see him at meals, you see him walking about the locker room, those two are hip on hip. They’re really good,” Bielema said
The Razorbacks get just the one season from Williams, though. And, Bielema teams definitely don’t use just one running back — they often use three. One more body — at least — is likely to see 60-plus carries this season.
That’s where Chase Hayden and Maleek Williams enter.
Both players are freshmen. Williams is the bulkier of the two. He stands 5-foot-11 and 215 to 220 pounds, depending on the day. Williams’ early arrival to campus — he was in for spring practice — made him the early front-runner for the gig behind Whaley. Now, it’s a third-team gig, but it still a job likely to yield carries.
Hayden, however, has quickly embraced his opportunity to vulture some snaps. The son of former NFL and University of Tennessee running back Aaron Hayden, Chase is smaller (5-11, 191) than the other three backs against whom he is competing. Bielema likes that.
“A lot of times in our system it’s not just two backs. We use three,” Bielema said. “So, right now, to have Devwah with his skill set, I think David is a very comparable skill set as well. Then, Chase would probably be that third guy right now. He’s a complete different changeup than those other two backs. Those three guys all bring kind of a different bag of tricks.”
Just a month out from Arkansas’ season opener, so anything can happen. Regardless, what was a position of concern three months ago, now appears to have budding depth and potential star power going forward.