USA TODAY Sports/Nelson Chenault

Hogs' ground attack expected to be better in 2017

Arkansas' running backs have been impressive so far this spring.

FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ first spring scrimmage was highlighted by its dominant ground attack.

The Razorbacks’ top four running backs – Rawleigh Williams, Devwah WhaleyMaleek Williams and Juan Day – unofficially combined for 397 yards on 53 carries during the 135-play scrimmage.

That is an average of 7.5 yards per carry, a figure quarterback Austin Allen partially credits Arkansas' experienced offensive line for.

“I thought the o-line came out with an attitude, an edge and I thought they blocked up everyone,” Allen said. “The running backs ran hard, broke some arm tackles. Some of those holes though, I could have broke a 30-yard run out there.”

While it’s always hard to tell how much of the offense’s success is a testament to itself or a reflection of the defense, it is good to see the running backs get extended action in the spring.

Despite returning the SEC’s regular-season rushing title winner in Williams, the Razorbacks hope to have a better rushing attack in 2017.

Their 2,135 rushing yards and 4.13 yards per carry were the lowest by a Bret Bielema-coached team since his first year at Wisconsin.

An improved offensive line should play a big role in that. It is a unit that returns six players with starting experience in the SEC, led by All-American candidate Frank Ragnow at center.

Colton Jackson, a redshirt sophomore from Conway, started a few games at right tackle last season before losing his job to Brian Wallace. He has been taking reps as the first-team left tackle this spring and said the offensive line has emphasized the running game.

“That’s what the Razorbacks are about, running the ball,” Jackson said. “That’s our identity. That’s what we’re trained to do and we are trying to press that as much as we can.”

Another key to a better rushing offense this season is more quality depth at running back.

Whaley rushed for 602 yards as a true freshman in 2016, but didn’t really find his groove as Williams’ backup until later in the season.

“As the year went on, I became more comfortable with the offense,” Whaley said. “It just came a lot easier for me toward the end of the year.

“The more reps I got, the easier it came and the better I felt playing all around.”

He has continued working on his pass protections and other aspects of his game, but Whaley is no longer seen as a second-teamer. Instead, he is splitting first-team snaps with Williams and it appears they will be more of a tandem in 2017.

They have the potential to be Arkansas’ third great running back duo in the last decade-plus, joining Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams from 2013-2014 and Darren McFadden and Felix Jones from 2005-2007.

“I feel like we can be a very good tandem this year, maybe even the best,” Whaley said. “That’s the goal. We each want to be the best and we have to continue to push each other so we can reach our goals.”

Although he is still young, the Razorbacks have also been impressed with what they’ve seen from early enrollee Maleek Williams.

The three-star prospect from Florida is expected to compete for a chance to play as a true freshman, along with fellow incoming freshman and 247Sports four-star prospect Chase Hayden.

However, Williams has a leg up in the race because he enrolled in January and is going through spring practice.

“Maleek, oh man, he's a tough running back,” Whaley said. “He's physical. He lowers his shoulder. He has some speed as well. He has some good vision.”

Arkansas’ third week of spring continues with practice No. 8 on Thursday and will conclude Saturday, likely with the Razorbacks’ second scrimmage.


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