It’s almost an embarrassment of riches for Arkansas running backs coach Jimmy Smith, but he has a plan for the plethora of talented ballcarriers on this year’s roster.

The Razorbacks are loaded in the backfield with sophomores Raheim “Rocket” Sanders (6-2, 227),  AJ Green (5-11, 208) and Dominique Johnson (6-2, 247), redshirt freshman Javion Hunt (6-0, 196) and true freshmen Rashod Dubinion (5-10, 211) and James Jointer (6-0, 213).

Sanders (578 yards), Johnson (575) and the departed Trelon Smith (598) were all over 500 yards last season while Green added 227 yards and Hunt had 4 carries for 19 yards while retaining his redshirt.

Throw in starting quarterback KJ Jefferson – the team’s leading rusher with 664 yards – and second-team quarterback Malik Hornsby’s 136 and you can see why Arkansas led Power 5 schools in rushing last season at 228 yards per game.

The capper was a 361-yard effort in a postseason win over Penn State, the second-most in Outback Bowl history.

“The one thing you try to do is get the best out of each guy and you go from there,” Smith said after Saturday’s practice. “Rocket, because of how he is playing right now, he should probably get more carries. It wouldn’t be him getting 50 percent  or 25, 25, 25, 25. It would be just him getting more right.

“…I tell them all the time, you are not a starter for the season, you are a starter for the week. If you are the best person out there on Monday, you still have to do it again.”

Johnson is coming off a knee injury and is not able to practice yet with Razorback head coach Sam Pittman saying he might miss the first game.

He is listed at 247 pounds, which is a little above where Smith wants Johnson when he is game ready.

“Every guy has a weight goal in mind,” Smith said. “What happened with him, as soon as he gets running around he’ll go down to around 240. I’ll say 235, but I’m going to give you 5-6 pounds or in that range. If you get down to 230, I’ll say d’on’t go down any lower. You get to 235, that’ll be perfect. At 240, OK, don’t get any higher.’ Seven pounds, to me, about 235-240 is about the max for him. And I think he’ll feel good at that weight.

Smith has kept Johnson engaged with his teammates even if he is not able to practice yet.

“Simple things like in the morning you’ve got to be here at 6:30,” Smith said. “At 6:15 you need to make sure everybody is here and shoot me a text and say, ‘Everybody is in the building, Coach.’ Before we go out with tape, everybody’s got to be taped. He’s got to check and make sure everybody is taped. 

“Small things to make sure … in the room, he might have to do signals for the plays, so he won’t lose that. I might even have him get on the board and have him show somebody something. Small things like that to give him responsibilities to make him be a part of it and keep him fresh at the same time. 

“It’s really important…When he comes back, you want him to be back. You don’t want him to come back and have to teach him everything and restart. That ain’t what you want. You want him to come back and be back, especially when he gets there physically.”

Green, the fastest of fhe backs, was not on campus with the others in the spring of 2021 and then had to deal with an injury once he did arrive.

“Definitely, because last year when he got here, he had a head injury, concussion or whatever, Smith said. “So, we could never get him going. In fact, his first contact was against Texas. He had a touchdown in that game. That was his first game really getting hit because in the summer time he didn’t scrimmage one time. His first contact was against Texas. 

“Now he’s had a chance to really hone in on what he needs to work on, and I think he’ll be a lot better.”

Last was the first time since 1975’s rush-heavy squad  that Arkansas had four runners over 500 yards each.

“We’re still working on stuff,” Green said. “It was a lot of us getting touches last year and it’s going to be the same thing this year. We’re just getting better and better. Like [Rocket] said, we’re still working. I just see the limit going up for us. We may break the record. We may tie the record, but we’re still going to rush the ball.”

Dubinion was working with the second team during early work on Saturday.

“The biggest thing is I give everybody opportunities to go with different guys to see stuff, you know what I mean? Sometimes you might want to see a certain play. For my guys, what I want to do, I have an inventory of what I want to see with certain plays. If I see something on the script I want to see you run, I’ll put you in another group. 

“Rocket might start it off, but with the twos and threes or the second guy, I might want to see you run outside zone or a counter or whatever I want to see on film so I can coach you off it. So, that’s why the rotation might change up.”

Jointer’s improvement since the spring has also caught Smith’s attention.

“The whole group has an understanding of what we want from them,” Smith said. “They’re doing a lot better job. The young guys are doing a lot better. James Jointer has come a long way just from understanding the offense. 

“Rashod (is) starting to understand what we want and what you need to do in practice to be good at college football. AJ is seeing things a lot better, and Rocket just continues to improve. Every day I see him do something new. I’m excited about the guys.”

Smith talked about keeping everybody happy in a time when transferring is en vogue.

“It is simple communication, man,” Smith said. “It won’t stop it from happening, but it will make you feel okay if it does happen. As a coach, I am real open with my guys. I tell them all the time that ‘I will not lie to you. You can ask me anything.’ 

“I tell the guys where they are at. I tell them what I need from them. If I don’t think you are good enough to be in the room and you need help to go somewhere else, I will help you. Whatever you need. Same thing with the classroom.”

“I want them to sleep at night. I am always with those guys. I am going to go over everything they do. I have a sheet that tells you what your goals are, what my expectations are, my priorities. If it is now happening, how do we fix it, can we fix it and go from there.”

Smith feels being honest with his players is the best even if it might not be what they want to hear at the time.

“…I might have to tell somebody that you are the fifth guy, whether it is in the same class or lower,” mints s That’s how the picture is. ‘Can you beat him (out)? Right now, I  don’t think you can. How much do you work on it?’ So you just have to talk to them.”

“They might end up coming to you and say ‘Coach, I have to go somewhere else.’ It won’t be a surprise because you have been talking to them.”

Photo By John D. James