No. 4 on a recently published list of five questions facing Arkansas in the preseason depends mostly on the answer to No. 2 on the same list.
Combine wondering about the running game sans Rawleigh Williams with the query concerning improvement in the offensive line and there is room on a personal enumeration for a new No. 5: Will special teams be improved?
Williams, who gave up football after a second serious neck injury in less than two years, ran for 1,360 yards last year. But, Devwah Whaley, who played behind Williams in 2016, is a bigger threat to break a long one and will be as productive as Williams given the same number of opportunities.
Plus, South Carolina transfer David Williams, who is supposed to be able to convert on short-yardage situations, and freshmen Chase Hayden and Maleek Williams will fill in nicely behind Whaley.
Rawleigh Williams’ game-by-game stats provide insight into what the O-line didn’t do or couldn’t do last year.
In losses to Texas A&M, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Missouri, and Virginia Tech, Williams carried 92 times for only 347 yards. Do the math — Williams made more than 1,000 yards in seven victories, including four vs. non-conference opponents.
Arkansas fans who equate returning starters with success will embrace the presence of center Frank Ragnow, left guard Hjalte Froholdt, right guard Johnny Gibson, left tackle Colton Jackson, and right tackle Brian Wallace.
Ragnow is legit, a preseason All-SEC pick.
Converted defensive lineman Froholdt started all 13 games at left guard, Gibson started the last five games of 2016 and was awarded a scholarship after the season, Jackson started the first three games of 2016 at right tackle, and Wallace started the final 10 games at that position. Note that four of the players were on the field regularly when Arkansas lost three of its last five.
Online profiles of various offensive linemen include the fact that they were part of a group that averaged 428.4 yards total offense per game, but does not mention that Arkansas’ 4.1 yards per rushing attempt was 12th in the SEC. That average is skewed by yardage lost on 34 sacks of Austin Allen, but most of those sacks and his propensity for throwing interceptions in the final eight games circles back to the offensive line.
Improvement up front is pretty much a given; a little better is not good enough.
Moving on, special teams are replete with question marks.
Gone is punter Toby Baker who’s average of 44.4 yards per try is overlooked because the defense was so bad that poor field position was of little consequence.
For example, the five SEC teams that beat Arkansas scored 17 touchdowns on possessions that covered 70 yards or more, including nine of 80-90 yards and four of more than 90 yards.
Blake Johnson is the obvious choice to replace Baker, but Johnson was put in “extreme timeout” by head coach Bret Bielema in April after an ankle injury in an off-field incident.
Johnson was reinstated, but maturity is a must — he was arrested for public intoxication in late August 2015 — and he has never punted against an SEC opponent.
Place kicker Cole Hedlund does not inspire confidence. He made 5-of-7 last year, including one in the bowl game, but missed his only attempt of more than 39 yards and gave way to senior Adam McFain after the fifth game of the season.
Hedlund is competing with sophomore Connor Limpert and freshman Blake Mazza, who made all five attempts — none more than 36 yards — in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Bothered by various health problems, Jared Cornelius must return as a wide receiver before he can resume punt return duties and Bielema has mentioned a half-dozen possibilities for the job, most of them young players. Some of those same names come up when the topic is returning kickoffs.
Growing up on Southwest Conference football, where special teams success was an integral part of winning, so much uncertainty is troubling.
Sports Columnist Harry King can be reached at: email@example.com