Rawleigh Williams III (Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

Arkansas running backs leaner, healthier this spring

Arkansas' running backs are looking better this spring compared to last spring.

FAYETTEVILLE – To get an idea of how far Arkansas’ backfield has come in one year, take a look at last spring’s scrimmage statistics.

With several injuries in the group and the incoming freshmen not on campus, the Razorbacks’ leading rusher was Denzell Evans.

Although they haven’t scrimmaged yet, this year’s unit is led by Rawleigh Williams, who won the SEC’s regular-season rushing title.

He went through last spring in a green no-contact jersey, as he was still recovering from a broken neck injury suffered during his true freshman season, but he is full go this year.

“Last spring coming off the injury, he was a little unsure of himself, but after this year, going through the spring and the fall, not being injured, he’s a veteran,” running backs coach Reggie Mitchell said. “He’s finishing his runs better and thus far he’s been really good.”

Williams has trimmed down to 220 pounds, which is six pounds less than his playing weight last season. While he’d like to lose a couple more and play at 218 pounds, he said he already feels quicker.

That hasn’t come without sacrifice, though.

“I’ve always worked hard, but you’ve got to eat the right things and get out of the bad habits,” Williams said. “I’ve never really eaten candy, but I love hot wings. I’m not eating those, not like I used to.”

Arkansas will also have Devwah Whaley this spring. The former four-star recruit had a pair of 100-yard games as a true freshman.

Much like Williams, Whaley has also trimmed down some and head coach Bret Bielema said he could play between 215-220 pounds.

However, Bielema and Mitchell are most excited about his progression in the playbook, which should complement his talent and result in an even better sophomore season.

“His protections are a lot better,” Bielema said. “Of all the guys I’ve ever coached, he’s really got a better understanding of tempo and where the ball could possibly hit and being able to make the correct cut, but he’s still got a long ways to go.”

With T.J. Hammonds converting to a slot receiver, Arkansas is searching for a third running back behind Williams and Whaley.

Junior Juan Day has an opportunity to win that role, but early enrollee Maleek Williams has caught the eye of the coaches.

In the Razorbacks’ first two spring practices, which were helmets-only, he missed only one assignment.

“That’s pretty impressive for a guy that came from a one-back offense and didn’t have to learn protections or run routes or anything like that,” Mitchell said. “He wants to learn and when the ball is in his hand, he’s been talented so far.”

Williams was also a part of the weight-loss trend. He came to Arkansas at 236 pounds in January and has already shred 17 pounds.

“Maleek Williams is very impressive through three practices,” Bielema said. “There was a copule times (Saturday) with our tempo plays that he just kind of put his foot in the ground and burst up the field.”

Week 2 of spring practice begins Tuesday. The Razorbacks have 12 more practices over the next four weeks, concluding with the annual Red-White Game on April 29.

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