Young and Skilled

Arkansas' new coaches are getting a chance this spring to look at a bevy of youthful and talented skill players - including sophomore tailback Jonathan Williams (6-0, 220) and sophomore wide receiver Mekale McKay (6-6, 190).

While it's true that Bret Bielema's Wisconsin teams won with strong offensive and defensive lines, there were also plenty of skill guys making big plays that were keys to the Badgers' success.

Now Bielema has several young running backs and wide receivers he will be looking to do the same for him at Arkansas.

That includes sophomore tailback Jonathan Williams (6-0, 220), who had his moments last season while rushing 45 times for 231 yards and catching eight passes for 208 yards and who has added 15 pounds of muscle during the off-season.

"I feel like my speed is feeling good and I still feel the speed and agility and the quickness is still there," noted Williams, who started two games last season and played in 11. "I was just able to get bigger and stronger."

With the departures of Knile Davis, Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo, Williams goes into the spring as the number one tailback.

He's in a group that also includes sophomore Nate Holmes (6-1, 176), redshirt sophomore Kody Walker (6-2, 244) and redshirt freshman walk on Jo Jo Wynn (5-9, 200).

It will also include incoming five-star tailback Alex Collins, who came to Fayetteville for spring break and is watching practice this week.

"I'm not worried about that (starting)," Williams said. " It's just I've got to keep working hard. I've got a lot of good guys behind me - Nate Holmes and Kody Walker) - they're real good. It's like a family. We don't fight or anything like that. We have real good relationships. It's not a negative vibe in the locker room or anything like that."

He knows there are not a lot of running backs on Arkansas' roster, but likes what he sees from them.

"(Former fullback) Kody Walker is still getting used to it, but he's definitely been looking real good lately," Williams said. "Nate Holmes, he's definitely somebody I think y'all should keep an eye on because he's got a lot of skill out there. We've got other guys like JoJo Wynn who a lot of people don't know about who gets carries, as well. I feel like we'll be alright at that position."

Williams in enthused about new Razorback running backs coach Joel Thomas, who came from Wiashington.

"It's definitely been a good thing," Williams said of Thomas' hire. " The first day he got hired he called me, and I like that. The intensity he brings to a football field is good. The drills he has, it's a change-of-pace, but I like it a lot so far."

Redshirt senior fullback Kiero Small is down 10 pounds from last season's 255, which ended with an injury that nevertheless allowed him to not end his college career with last season's 4-8 campaign.

"It (the lost weight) helps me go to the next play," Small said. "I can run full speed and come back and not be as tired as I was with the extra 10 pounds.

"If you hold a 10-pound weight in your hand and try to go do everything, it's big difference," Small added. "It was a real motivation for me. It'll help me play so I won't have to come off the field and stuff like that. It's exiting to be a fullback in the offense."

There's also some young options at wide receiver, who will hoping to help mitigate the loss of senior Cobi Hamilton.

One of those that showed potential last season was MeKale McKay (6-6, 190), who caught 21 passes 317 yards and two touchdowns last season while starting 10 games and playing in all 12 outings.

He is expected to be both a deep threat and a go-to possession receiver for the Razorbacks this season.

"Deep balls since high school has been kind of what I do," McKay said. "Working on my shorter game has been something that I go into the film room and watch what I've done and watch the vets - Cobi Hamilton, all the vets do their shorter routes. It's just the feeling you get on the field, it comes easier once you practice a lot."

He is also happy with his new position coach – former Kansas State assistant Michael Smith.

"You can talk to him about anything," McKay said. "It's more of a coaching standpoint and a man-to-man standpoint. It's just great. He's bringing so much intensity. It's going to be good."

The fact that Smith has coached in the NFL brings street credibility.

" It's my first time being coached by a coach that played receiver in the NFL - a place that I want to go," McKay said. " It's awesome. He teaches us not only football but from a real life standpoint. We look up to him a lot because he's been in our shoes before. He's been to where we want to be. It's great. We look at him and we're like 'man, we want to hear whatever you've got to say, just tell us and we're ready for it.'"

Smith has been pleased with what he is getting from McKay so far.

"I think he's still a little raw, but he's got a tremendous upside," Smith said. "The thing I love about him is that he works at it. He's eager to learn. That's always a great starting point when you get a new coaching staff and you get a young guy that kind of got thrown into the mix early. He has some things that he's taken from last year that you feel good about, but he's still raw, and we're trying to work on developing him a little bit more."

Redshirt freshman Keon Hatcher (6-2, 210) is also a big fan of Smith's so far.

"He played the receiver spot down at Kansas State, and then he played for the Chiefs at wide receiver," Hatcher said. "For him to be able to give us what he learned, to put that in our game, that's really great. A receiver-to-receiver is really good, a person that has been there before."

"He's going to let you know when you do something good, but he's really going to let you know when you mess up, and I like that about Coach," Hatcher added. "He'll kind of pat you on your butt or whatever, 'good job,' but when you mess up he's on you because he wants you to be perfect."

Hatcher admits he learned a lot from Hamilton last season.

"I learned a lot from Cobi," Hatcher said. "The work ethic, his techniques from everything, using my hands coming off the line and my footwork. I learned how to catch the ball and burst out after the catch. I learned a lot from Cobi."


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