FAYETTEVILLE -- It seems most of the great college running backs hit the ground running as freshmen.
It also seems most of the great ones early in their freshman season don't play nearly as many downs as their rushing stats warrant.
The explanations these past 42 years by various Arkansas Razorbacks coaches seldom vary.
"We want to keep our quarterback in one piece," is the general gist.
The young running back who can't pass protect among busting assignments tends to get his quarterback busted.
With 1,000-yard rushing running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins returning along with 260-pound Kody Walker enhancing and protecting fifth-year senior quarterback Brandon Allen, it seemed idyllic for talented freshman running back Rawleigh Williams III to redshirt and learn the nuances protecting next year's quarterbacks.
Rawleigh Williams of Dallas, no relation to Jonathan Williams of Allen, Texas, other than this summer Rawleigh shadowed Jonathan like a minion to a mentor, knew that a redshirt possibility existed even though he was told to practice like it didn't.
"They never got to the point where they were saying we are going to play you or we are not," Rawleigh Williams said. "It was like, 'Man, just keep doing what you are doing and everything is going to work out.' I am just trying to do whatever they want me to do."
Now they want him doing plenty. A foot injury during last Saturday's scrimmage finished Jonathan Williams' season.
Collins becomes the star, but obviously Rawleigh Williams must play, too.
He'll hit the ground running if last week's scrimmage-leading 106 yards on 15 carries -- including a 63-yard touchdown -- is an indicator.
Can he hit it doing all those little things keeping the quarterback intact?
"There is a bit of a learning curve with all that, but he has come a long way," Allen said after Thursday's practice. "I am pretty sure he picked up a corner blitz today that is tough to see. He is working at it every day."
Collins concurs. The junior recalled difficulties his freshman year learning the little things even while rushing for 1,026 yards.
"He's been able to move up real fast and learn a lot," Collins said. "I'm pretty impressed."
So are Coach Bret Bielema, offensive coordinator Dan Enos and running backs coach Jemal Singleton.
"You are blocking bigger guys than he is used to blocking, but he is progressing really well and knowing exactly what to do," Singleton said.
Enos opined: "He is very mature. We think he is going to be an every down back."
Bielema marvels at Williams' willingness and ability to learn.
"I don't know if I have ever had a freshman at any position concentrate as much as he does," Bielema said.
Or surprise seniors like Rawleigh did scrimmaging last Saturday.
"We had two great running backs with J. Will and Alex and guys weren't paying no attention [to Rawleigh]," senior receiver Keon Hatcher said. "After that first scrimmage guys opened their eyes like, wow, this guy can play."
Sports on 08/22/2015
Print Headline: Freshman Williams off and running