BELLA VISTA — Arkansas wrapped up spring practice last April describing its running back depth chart as 1A, 1B and 1C.
Nothing has changed after nearly three months of summer workouts.
Running backs coach Joel Thomas said the three-man rotation will continue to sort itself out when the Razorbacks begin preseason practice Aug. 4. Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins and Korliss Marshall enter camp as three of the team’s top playmakers, leaving Arkansas with the intriguing challenging of finding ways to get each one involved as they try to improve an offense that struggled last season.
“We’re going to ride the hot hand and see who is playing the best ball,” Thomas said Friday before the George Billingsly Northwest Arkansas Razorback Club golf scramble in Bella Vista. “That’s the great thing about having three legit guys as we enter camp. The competition is going to separate them.
“I’m excited to see what this animal we can develop into as the season goes along.”
Arkansas had success in the run game last season thanks largely to Collins (1,026 yards and four touchdowns) and Williams (900 yards, four touchdowns). The duo is one of the most productive tandems returning this season with both players on the preseason watch lists for the Maxwell (the nation’s most outstanding college football player) and Doak Walker (the nation’s top running back) awards.
Thomas said both Williams and Collins have had productive summer as well under strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert.
“It’s cool to see,” Thomas said. “You go from Year One to now and you see the progression. Alex has been on our campus for one full year and you see his progression and Jonathan obviously two full years. You can see the maturity.”
But there’s more competition for carries entering the 2014 season because of Marshall’s emergence late last season. He averaged 8.6 yards on 17 carries last season, made the full-time move from safety to running back in the winter and was one of the Razorbacks’ most productive players throughout spring practice.
Marshall rushed for a game-high 99 yards and two touchdowns on six carries in the Red-White game, providing a big-play threat to the rushing attack.
“You saw the implications of that in the spring time,” Thomas said. “He started getting comfortable and confident in his game playing running back and then he had this opportunity again in the summer to be with the full group.”
It has given Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney three weapons to work with, although keeping each player happy could be challenging.
Chaney said his plan to get all three involved on offense “remains to be seen.” But he said Friday there are plenty of possibilities to explore in preseason camp.
“I think the unique part of it, maybe some of them are good tailbacks and some of them you can detach and do some things with,” Chaney said. “That remains to be seen. I don’t know. I have my speculations on who could go outside and play some different positions. But until we try it and look at it, I don’t know if we will.”
Either way, the Razorbacks knows the backfield will play a big role in any success.
The Razorbacks must find a way to improve their passing attack, but the three-man backfield of Williams, Collins and Marshall — also known as 1A, 1B and 1C entering preseason camp — are the strength of Arkansas’ offense.
“They’re an incredible bunch,” offensive lineman Brey Cook said at SEC Media Days. “Very talented group of guys back there. Each one brings something different to the table. They all bring something incredible no one else can really do. It’s very comforting to know that as long as I do my job and the O-line takes care of business they’ll take care of their business. They’re a great group back there.”