FAYETTEVILLE — With 2016 SEC leading rusher Rawleigh Williams’ Razorbacks career over after his second major neck injury it seemed obvious that originally running back become receiver T.J. Hammonds will move back to running back.
Obviously, though, sophomore Hammonds made major spring strides with an Arkansas receiving corps graduating 2016b reliables Keon Hatcher, Drew Morgan, Dominique Reed and Cody Hollister.
For on Monday’s SEC Coaches teleconference wrapping up the completed spring practices, Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema disclosed no immediate plans to move Hammonds from mainly receiver/situational running back to full-time running back.
Playing last year as a true freshman out of Pulaski Robinson behind Williams, 245 carries for 1,360 yards and 12 touchdowns, and current sophomore Devwah Whaley, 110 carries for 602 yards and three touchdowns, and since graduated big back Kody Walker, 5-10 197 change of pace back Hammonds netted 88 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
“There’s that chance that could happen,” Bielema said Monday of eventually moving Hammonds back to running back. “But I think we liked what evolved at wide receiver, especially that last week. And to watch that last spring practice that was televised Saturday On the SEC Network it really showed, the catches he made that day. He’s had tremendous growth. He’s very intelligent and he’s very exciting with the ball in his hands. So the growth at wide receiver, we’d probably like to see that going. But I am not saying he couldn’t pop in there at tailback at some point.”
Much will depend on Whaley, Juan Day, the talented but constantly injured junior squadman from North Little Rock, and 2017 freshman running back signees Maleek Williams of Punta Gorda, Fla. and Chase Hayden of Collierville, Tenn.
Bielema said the April 29 timing of Williams’ injury, on the very last practice of spring drills, “allowed the reality of it to set in on our football team into the fall.”
He said Whaley, highly-touted of Beaumont, Texas, would not be in awe of having to fill Rawleigh Williams’ shoes.
“Devwah, my guess he entered spring with the idea to become the starting tailback,” Bielema said. “That’s how he’s wired. So I don’t know how much it affects him. Some of the younger players a guy like Maleek Williams, Juan Day, Chase Hayden, a freshman coming in, it probably pushes them a little bit more and that’s probably a good thing for the summer.”
Maleek Williams got a head start as a December high school grad able to enroll at the UA last January and participate in the Razorbacks’ winter offseason program and spring practices.
Maleek Williams ran the ball well but with young running backs that’s often the easy part. He profited most from the away the ball nuances that running backs must do like picking up blitzes among his blocking assignments and carrying out fakes and running the proper safety valve pass routes, all things vital to keep starting quarterback Austin Allen healthy.
He also shed 15 or more pounds upon arriving appearing more fullback than tailback.
“He dropped the weight,” Bielema said. “He’s got physical ability with his hands and I think myself, Dan (Enos, the offensive coordinator) and Reggie (Mitchell)n were all very impressed with his football IQ. Just the way he was able to learn the game and understand what we asked him to do and then be able to take all those Hoganese classes this summer to enhance his learning is going to be huge.”
Those SEC coaches asked about Rawleigh Williams paid tribute to the running back who made a remarkable recovery from a broken neck seven games into the 2015 to lead the SEC in 2016 regular season rushing but suffered briefly temporary paralysis a second time with his April 29 injury and to respect his family’s wishes with Bielema’s support to discontinue playing football while continuing to pursue his UA degree on full athletic scholarship.
“A great back and a great young man,” LSU Coach Ed Orgeron said. “I feel bad for him and his family but I am sure he’ll take some things he learned from football into his career and be highly successful.”
Missouri Coach Barry Odom remarked on watching film of Rawleigh Williams bedeviling the SEC defenses of Missouri’s opponents during the season up to the SEC season-ending Arkansas vs. Missouri game.
“Obviously Rawleigh is a tremendous player and fun to watch as a competitor until it was your turn to play him,” Odom said. “I wish him very well.”
Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze had tried to recruit Rawleigh out of Bishop Lynch High in Dallas.
“He’s a quality individual and he’s going to be successful at whatever he does,” Freeze said.