Traylor Pleased to Have His Top 3 Running Backs Returning

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Chase Hayden 1_1532571489045.PNG.jpg

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas returns senior Devwah Whaley and juniors Rakeem Boyd and Chase Hayden at running back and no one is more pleased about than Jeff Traylor.

Traylor coaches the running backs and talked about the luxury of having all three of his top rushers returning from 2018.

“I don’t know how many coaches in the country, Power 5, have their top three backs returning so I’m extremely blessed,” Traylor said. “And not that they’re returning on the depth chart, all three played major, major important minutes last year. Unfortunately two of them missed significant time because of injury.”

Boyd led the Razorbacks with 123 carries for 734 yards and two touchdowns last fall. Whaley was next with 82 attempts for 368 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hayden added 57 carries for 251 yards for a touchdown. Boyd added 23 catches for 165 yards while Whaley had eight receptions for 87 yards and Hayden snagged 11 passes for 61 yards.

In the spring, Traylor was down to one scholarship running back, Hayden, much of the time due to injuries and other factors. This fall, he has a lot of options. In addition to his top three backs, he returns junior T.J. Hammonds and then true freshman A’Montae Spivey as well as Arizona State transfer Trelon Smith, who has to sit out this fall.

“Chase had a great spring and he’s back and looking really good,” Traylor said. “Devwah is back from his injury and looking really good. Rakeem is back from surgery on his shoulder and he has looked incredible as well. Of course we have the transfer, Tre Smith, who as just been amazing and saved our legs for us tremendously.

“T.J. has been out there a little bit, but he has been injured most of camp. A’Montae has looked really good the last few days. He had a little rib bruise, but he’ll be fine.”

How many will you try to have ready to play during the season?

“Right now, we are trying to get everyone of them ready, but when the season plays out, we feel very comfortable playing three backs,” Traylor said. “That’s kind of the plan. That three is pretty established, those three returnees from last year who have done nothing to not make me feel confident going into the season.”

Traylor is a big fan of the rule that allows a player to play four games and still maintain his redshirt year.

“It is unbelievable and is a great rule for the kids,” Traylor said. “So with A’Montae, we don’t know yet. We like to take four, like to travel four backs. Special teams is very important as well. Your fourth back should be on special teams. 

“He should be out there and if you want to go play in the league, you better have a special teams grade ready. It is called a T-grade and if you don’t have any special teams video when you are young, that is going to send up a red flag to those guys on why you didn’t play any special teams.

“That’s where we are right now with those guys. They know three of them are going to play and the fourth one is going to be on the (special) teams. So four of them are going to travel.”

How are they looking in pass pro?

“The top three are fantastic at it,” Traylor said. “They have done it a long time. A’Montae is learning and he is getting better at it. Tre took a significant step up today in his pass protection.  That was one of his goals and he was tremendously improved today.”

Smith can’t play this fall due to the NCAA transfer rule, but he has drawn praise from Chad Morris and all the offensive coaches who have been asked about the running backs.

“It’s not just the coaches, it’s the players,” Traylor said. “He has gained tremendous respect from those guys. Coach used the word talent today. They have all got talent, but he used the example ED. What is your ED, your extra dimension? I went around the room and let each running back tell me what their extra dimension was.

“Tre said it and he is right, it is his mental toughness. He is like a navy seal when it comes to his mental toughness. He goes every rep full speed as hard as he can. He graded out  higher in the scrimmage than all the other backs and he has been here the least. That just shows you how he pays attention to detail.”

Is Smith a good motivator for the group?

“There’s no doubt,{ Traylor said. “It’s not even his words, it’s his actions. I mean, in the scrimmage Saturday, a couple of the backs went down — not the top three — and he literally had a chance for 118 graded opportunities, and he had 107 ‘pluses.’ That means he played about 58 snaps in the scrimmage, which is a lot of plays in the heat.”

He’s from Texas, but how did you come across him the second time around?

“He loves football,” Traylor said. “He just loves football. I was at another university when he was coming out, so I didn’t recruit him as hard, but Coach (Joe) Craddock had recruited him hard when he was at SMU, so they had a relationship. I knew of Tre just from being at another university watching him, but when I went back and watched his high school video, it just screamed how much he loved football. And Coach Craddock had recruited him and on him, so he knew how much he loved football, as well.

“Some kids are really good at football, they don’t necessarily like football. He really loves football. When he’s not out there with us, he’s watching it, he’s talking about it. It’s just what he loves to do.”

Did he reach out to Arkansas when he left Arizona State?

“Yeah, after he’d already transferred, and he reached out to us,” Smith said. “We were glad to take him on board.”

Traylor feels the running game can be much better in 2019 and explained his reasoning on Thursday.

“Last year, we were just trying to get the install in,” Morris said. “We weren’t really good at 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. We’re just really trying to clean up our details of our work.

“And you know, our ball security wasn’t bad last year, but there were still a lot of instances where the ball was loose. We just got lucky and didn’t fumble it. We’re trying to clean that up. Our track steps, the way we fit up on our pass protection. We were very successful in our pass protection last year, believe it or not, from our position, but the way it looks, the technique of it, the small things, the details of it, really trying to get finer in our work.”

Traylor is pleased to be part of the rebuilding job Morris is doing at Arkansas and is impressed with how it’s coming along.

“Two things: Our D-line and O-line depth and just our commitment to our culture to really everybody buying in,” Traylor said. “I know it’s the most over-used word in college football history right now. But this team really is bought in.

“We’re extremely young. But the message coach Morris is speaking they’re repeating and they’re living it. That’s been the biggest difference. D-line, O-line and obviously we recruited some really good skill kids we’re very excited about. We’re going to be leaning on them quick and that’s a little scary, but it’s also a blessing.”

Arkansas will hold a closed practice today in addition to attending the Kickoff Luncheon at noon. They will then hold a closed scrimmage on Saturday.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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