FAYETTEVILLE — Gone is Rakeem Boyd to the NFL Draft, but redshirt junior Trelon Smith returns after leading the team in rushing in 2020.
Smith played in all 10 games in 2020 with four starts. He rushed 134 times for 710 yards and five touchdowns. He also added 22 receptions for 159 yards and a touchdown.
Smith will be joined this spring by redshirt junior Josh Oglesby, redshirt senior T.J. Hammonds, redshirt freshman Dominique Johnson and true freshmen Javion Hunt and Raheim (Rocket) Sanders in addition to some walk-on players. The non-scholarship running backs are redshirt freshman Donte Buckner, sophomore Reid Turner and true freshman Preston Crawford. Sam Pittman talked about the running backs on Monday during a zoom conference.
“First of all with the running backs we’re trying to find the guy,” Pittman said. “Obviously we were talking about it the other day. We have a lot of kids that are very similar with Oglesby and Trelon and T.J. They’re all smaller, quicker, shifty, fast guys. We need to find a big back. And, so, we have moved Rocket Sanders to running back. Of course Dominique is in there as well. Because of the way we’re doing it with Javion Hunt come in and because of the way we’re doing it, I think they’re going to get plenty of reps and we’ll be able to find it. We’re looking for that guy, and if we can’t find that guy — a lot of times if you have three or four good ones you don’t have one good one. So, we’re trying to look for that guy. Obviously Smith has earned that spot to this point, and we’re going to let him go and see if he can continue to improve on what he has done this far.”
Pittman talked about the work and development of the running backs since the end of 2020 season.
“I think they’re all getting bigger,” Pittman said. “We wanted Dominique to get smaller, lose a little weight. But they’ve got a good work ethic, including Javion Hunt, who came in at Christmas or in January. I like Oglesby. I liked Oglesby before he got hurt. He got hurt in that first scrimmage and he’s come back strong. We’re figuring all that stuff out between track and us and all those things in the spring. I like him. I like Sanders a lot. Rocket Sanders, he’s never carried the ball and he’s never gotten hit here yet, so we’ve got to find that out there, and we will pretty fast. I like Sanders back there because he’s a big back that’s a very physical guy. T.J. Hammonds we found out was much more productive in our self-scout when he had the ball in his hands. He was very productive later on in the season. We’ve got to get the ball to him a little bit.”
Regardless of who is the running back, Pittman wants the offense to know it can get third-and-short.
“To be honest with you, I sure would like to on third-and-short we threw the ball than what we would like to,” Pittman said. “I believe that our first down of getting four yards or more, turn around and hand the ball off is big for us. I think we have to — we played behind the chains too much last year. We weren’t confident. Evidently we weren’t confident enough in our kids that we can turn around and hand the ball off on third-and-2 and third-and-3 and get the first down.
“So, I don’t know about percentages. I think they’ll go up because we’ve got to come out of spring ball with the ability to think we can run the football, and then after that — and that could be a quarterback run as well. But I think we have to do a better job of running the football and that takes us out of those third down situations where we either didn’t protect it well enough, we didn’t find the open receiver, or we didn’t get open. One or the other. Sacks have a lot to do with a lot of people. But we’ve got to trim that number down as well. And how you do it is winning first down, run or pass. But we have to certainly do a better job percentage wise when we hand the ball off.”
Arkansas will hold its first spring practice on Tuesday.