By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas led all Power 5 schools in rushing in 2021 and the entire set of running backs minus Trelon Smith return along with a couple of freshmen.
Sam Pittman talked about Rocket Sanders and the running backs on Wednesday when he met with the media to preview preseason football practices that begin on Friday. Pittman talked about not having a feature back in the offense instead placing an emphasis on depth.
“I don’t know that,” Pittman said. “I believe that in this league, it’s such a big league, a physical league, that you’re probably not going to … a lot of teams don’t have a feature back. They’ll do it kind of by committee. Obviously if you have one who is that much better than somebody else, you’re going to give him 8-10 carries more per game than the next guy. But kind of where we’re at is we feel like we’ve got three guys that — four when Dominique (Johnson) gets back — that we feel like we can have success with. Obviously you have a depth chart for a reason. With Rocket being No. 1 on that. We just try to keep them fresh. But if Rocket’s fresh he’s going to get the majority of the carries.”
Sanders rushed 114 times for 578 yards and five touchdowns while catching 11 passes for 109 yards and one touchdown in 2021 as a true freshman. Johnson had 97 carries for 575 yards and seven touchdowns while grabbing seven passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. Another true freshman, AJ Green returns after rushing 47 times for 227 yards and a touchdown. Green also added seven receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown. True freshman Rashod Dubinion is expected to work his way into the rotation this season as well.
Johnson is still injured and not ready to go full-speed right now according to Pittman, who also pointed out one of his selling points is doing the backs by committee.
“Yeah, any time you have the situation like we have, where we’re playing several, you have to find in recruiting the positive about that,” Pittman said. “And certainly ours is that if you’re good enough to help us win and get drafted and things of that nature, that the wear and tear on your body wouldn’t be quite as significant as if you’re carrying the ball 25 times a game.
“Dominique, we had a talk about that this morning in our staff meeting with Dave (Polansky), I feel like he’ll be able to do some things. Maybe not the first week, as far as team-oriented type things. But he’s progressing well. He’s ahead of schedule. So I don’t know if we’ll have him for the Cincinnati game or not, but I feel like we’re gonna have him the majority of the season.”
One area that Sanders won’t be involved in the return game. Pittman made sure he pointed that out when discussing who could be the kickoff and punt returners this fall.
“That was topic of discussion between us all too,” Pittman said. “I think Bryce Stephens is a guy we all believe in. He could be a nice punt returner. Jadon Haselwood has done a nice job back there as well. (Myles) Slusher. Kickoff return I like Day Day (LaDarrius Bishop) back there. Slusher is another guy I think would be good. They threw Rocket’s name out to me and I threw it out. He’s not doing that. AJ Green is another guy I think with a year under his belt. We’ve just got to have a guy hit it. Those are a few guys I think will be in that battle. (Isaiah) Sategna is obviously one of those guys in punt and kickoff return we can look out as well.”
The Razorbacks will hit the practice fields for the first time on Friday.