There is no questioning Rakeem Boyd’s talent. A former four-star high school recruit, rated as the number eight running back in the nation his senior year, Boyd made a brief stop at Texas A&M before ending up at Independence Community College where he rushed for over 1,200 yards with 14 touchdowns in 2017.
A year later Boyd was Arkansas’ leading rusher in Chad Morris’ first season on the Hill with 734 yards at 6.0 yard per carry. He also led the team in all-purpose yards and reeled off Arkansas’ longest line of scrimmage play of the season, a 69-yard touchdown run against Ole Miss.
By all accounts it was an impressive debut during a difficult season for the Razorbacks. But associate head coach and running back coach Jeff Traylor admitted that he expected more out of Boyd. The ability was there. Tons of it. But consistency was an issue. Far too often Traylor saw his top back heading off the field to the bench with what he perceived to be nagging but minor injuries.
“I called him soft,” Traylor recalled as the team headed into its second full week of pre-season camp. “Everything you can say as a coach to motivate somebody and then you find out he got a torn labrum and a rotator cuff and I went from six-foot three to about four-foot ten in a day.”
Boyd sat out spring football following successful surgery to correct the problem which he had endured without complaint going back to his time in College Station.
“I felt terrible,” Traylor admitted. “I love the kid. I spent a lot of time with him through the years and he’s tough. A tough young man.”
The injury behind him, Boyd has shown the kind of consistency that Traylor had been looking for. In fact he was so impressed with Boyd’s practice efforts going back to the second scrimmage of camp that he did something position coaches don’t usually do until a depth chart is released. He elevated one of his players above the group in front of the media.
“Can’t say enough about him right now,” Traylor told reporters. “He’s been the top guy in our room now three days in a row. And Devwah (Whaley) and Chase (Hayden) won’t want to see this when it gets put out there but Rakeem’s done that.
Still, Traylor made it clear that he is happy with his entire room.
“I don’t know how many coaches in the country, power five, had their top three backs returning,” Traylor raved. “So I’m extremely blessed. And not just returning on the depth chart, all three played major, major important minutes last year.”
That kind of returning experience has created a much better situation for Traylor in camp this season. A season ago he struggled trying to teach the various techniques involved in Morris’ power spread offense to players who had no previous exposure to it.
“Last year we were just trying to get the install in,” Traylor recalled. “So we weren’t really good with the details of it. You can just go back and watch our games. Our track steps were all over the place. There was no consistency. (In camp) We’re just really trying to clean up the details of our work. Our track steps. Our ball security. Our Pass protection.”
Traylor also feels a lot better about the guys up front who will be blocking for his backs in 2019. Instead of the nine scholarship players in the offensive line that Arkansas endured last season there are currently fifteen competing in daily camp practices.
“I was a head coach for fifteen years,” Traylor pointed out. My brother was an offensive line coach so I look at things from a different prospective probably. When you’re a coach you can only motivate so much where there’s no potential threat from a backup player. When you know you’re the only one out there (at your position) it’s just hard. (As a coach) How do you practice if you’re terrified that you’re going to get one of ’em hurt? You spend the whole time saying, ‘Watch your step. Be careful.’ You can’t get better at football that way.”
Boyd was singing the praises of the offensive line after the offense won the practice belt on Monday following Saturday’s second full scale camp scrimmage, telling reporters, “We did get the belt. On red zone we were getting after ’em. The offensive line did a great job. We were working.”
Boyd was also quick to note the value of the experience in the running backs room this coming season: “We all had a lot of runs. (in the scrimmage) All the backs did. Coach said he’ll play three so we’ll all be mixing in. Taking a load off each other. It’ll be fun.”