FAYETTEVILLE — If Alex Collins is unhappy being part of the Arkansas football program, running backs coach Joel Thomas hasn’t heard about it.
Thomas was asked about rumblings regarding Collins’ future, which ran rampant on social media late last week while players were on spring break. The Razorbacks were back on the practice field for the first time since the break Tuesday.
“That’s the first news that it’s been told to me,” Thomas said when asked if Collins had mentioned transferring. “You’ll have to ask Alex on that if that’s the case.”
Interview requests for Collins were denied Tuesday. Arkansas offered no explanation for the denial. Twelve other offensive players were available.
Collins was named the SEC’s Freshman of the Year in 2013 after rushing for 1,026 yards with four touchdowns. He was the first player in SEC history to top the 100-yard rushing mark in his first three games, leading a ground game that was ranked third in the SEC (208.7 yards a game) during Bret Bielema’s first season.
Collins also was one of a handful of players Bielema suspended for a week during the Razorbacks’ offseason conditioning program. But Collins was reinstated after the one-week absence and has worked with the team throughout the spring.
“Alex continues to do some very, very good things,” Bielema said when asked about three running backs after the first week of drills on March 21. “He’s very explosive and has some tremendous upside to him. We made a consistent effort of him trying to, on certain plays, hit it up in there no matter what he sees. Just kind of hit it and get our three yards, get our four yards and be happy. He did a good job of that (on March 20). I thought it was a good starting point.”
Bielema also was complimentary of Jonathan Williams’ work in the offseason and spring practice on March 21, saying he has been “blown away” by the junior’s growth since last season. He added that Korliss Marshall, who has been moved to the position full-time, has “really jumped out” as well as he adjusts to the offense.
“For him to be where he is right now has been awesome,” Bielema said about Marshall, who also served a one-week suspension during the offseason.
Thomas and Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney both said Collins was with the Razorbacks during Tuesday’s practice, which was closed to the public.
Chaney said Collins has done a “real nice job” with ball security this spring and is working to be a smarter ball carrier. Thomas said Collins has improved in several areas, but still has “some holes in his game” to work on the rest of the spring.
“He had a good practice,” Thomas said. “You know, it is what it is. We have to take it all day by day and keep on feeding information. … People forget he’s been on campus nine months. And this is our time we get to execute our technique, where usually during the season it’s more of a scheme and a play-call deal to get him ready to play.”
Arkansas was on the practice field for the first time in 11 days on Tuesday afternoon. So it was no surprise there were some signs of a lengthy layoff.
“We had some mistakes and some stuff we hadn’t been doing,” Chaney said. “But I think that kind of comes with it a little bit. But for the most part, their attitude was good and their effort was … I don’t remember a lot of turnovers, which is usually what takes place after break. So I was pleased.”
Chaney said Arkansas didn’t install much of the offense during Tuesday’s practice because of the lengthy break. But that will change with Thursday’s practice.
“The challenge will be coming up on Thursday when we install third down,” Chaney said. “Third down creates a lot more volume for them. You have a lot more new concepts in for the young wideouts, that will be good, and the young quarterbacks, all learning stuff. It will be a learning curve on third down. Hopefully we’ll do fine with it and work some of the wrinkles out and enjoy what we need to see.”
Smothers with starters
Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman said junior Mitch Smothers was working with the first-team offense at left guard during Tuesday’s practice. Smothers moved up in place of Grady Ollison, who is working with an ankle injury.
“He’s had an ankle problem here and there,” Pittman said about Ollison. “But he’s doing a good job. Him and Mitch are over there trying to figure that spot out.”
The rest of the first-team line has remained intact with center Luke Charpentier, left tackle Dan Skipper, right tackle Brey Cook and right guard Denver Kirkland.
“I think I’m getting more comfortable with them,” Pittman said. “We need more depth, and we’ve got to find a left guard. So that’s what we’re doing.”
Arkansas has two more practices scheduled this week. The Razorbacks will be on the field Thursday, then have their first spring scrimmage scheduled for Saturday.
“I’m excited about getting to Saturday,” Chaney said. “We’ll be out there on the field and play first down, second down, third down and have a good little scrimmage. Watch the kids compete without the coaches being out there screaming at them. And that’s always a fun time for me. I love the first scrimmage of the spring.”