FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas running back Korliss Marshall’s frustration grew while he watched the Razorbacks scrimmage from the sideline earlier this spring.
The sophomore had plans to prove he was a full-time running back and show he deserved carries. Marshall wanted to make the most of every snap this spring. So missing a scrimmage because of a health issue bothered him.
“I’m so concerned about what others may think of me — ‘Oh, he may be scared to play in the scrimmage,’ or something of that sort,” Marshall said.
Marshall won’t have to worry about that after rushing for 99 yards and two touchdowns on six carries in the Red-White game. In fact, his performance this spring has created an interesting dilemma for the Razorbacks as they move into the summer.
Junior Jonathan Williams remains Arkansas’ best all-around running back, while Alex Collins is a 1,000-yard rusher. But Marshall’s spring can’t be ignored. So how does Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney plan to get all three involved in an offense searching for explosiveness after last season’s struggles?
“There’s no telling,” Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen said. “Coach Chaney is an offensive mastermind. You know he’s got something up his sleeve for all three of them. He’s going to have some things there to showcase each of their talents. So there’s no telling what he’s going to draw up, but you know it’s going to work.”
There’s no doubt Chaney gladly welcomes the challenge as Arkansas tries to improve an offense that averaged just 20.7 points a game last season.
Bielema said last Saturday all three have proven to be “valuable ready-made” guys to build an offense around. He considers the trio of running backs starters, which is why each was part of the Red team in last Saturday’s scrimmage.
The offensive staff feels the same. In fact, Bielema said running backs coach Joel Thomas labeled his top three backs as “1A, 1B and 1C” after 15 practices.
“All of them bring valuable assets,” Bielema said. “As all running backs do, they all want the ball. I get it. I understand it. And it’s our job as coaches to distribute it. But on the flip side of it, you’re going to get what you deserve.”
Williams said its clear there’s more competition for carries with Marshall’s emergence this spring. The Red-White Game proved it. Williams rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries, while Collins managed just 12 yards on four attempts.
But Williams — who has been the leader at the position because of his offseason work — said the pressure is good for the group. No one wants to be left out.
“It’s a friendly competition,” Williams said. “It’s not anything bad or cancerous. We all push each other. You see somebody break a long run and that kind of gets the next guy hype. So it’s kind of pick your poison.”
Marshall is confident there will be room for everyone to make an impact, too.
“We all don’t mind taking at least three reps and then getting a breather,” Marshall said. “You know, it really just keeps everybody fresh. That’s the way we look at it. I feel that if we look at it as if we’re all competing against one another, trying to fight for the spot, I think it will break the chemistry up between us. We’ve done a good job keeping that chemistry close. Keeping a close bond together.”
How exactly Arkansas plans to keep each running back involved in the offense remains uncertain. But there are options.
In fact, Bielema joked after the spring game the Razorbacks could turn to the “wishbone.” The passing game — which struggled last season — could be another area they touch the ball more. Bielema didn’t rule out using two in the backfield as well with the absence of a dominant fullback after Kiero Small’s departure.
Anything is up for discussion as Arkansas explores options.
“That’s what I hired Jim Chaney for. And our offensive coaches,” Bielema said. “I think Joel’s had combination of guys in that as well. Obviously, last year we had Kiero involved in kind of a little Wildcat package, if you will. We called it Wild Hog, but it’s something that definitely is intriguing if we can do it.
“I would say that Korliss might bring some skills that you could use him maybe somewhere other than tailback as well on the field — whether it be as a slot receiver or a motion guy or somebody to have a little bit of nuance to the offense.”
Either way, Arkansas wrapped up spring practice believing Marshall will be a vital part of the offense next season. Along with Williams and Collins.
They have three months to figure out how to make it a reality. But no matter the solution, right tackle Brey Cook said the Razorbacks wrapped up spring practice confident there are three talented running backs to work with next fall.
“There’s always somebody back there that is going to get the job done,” Cook said. “They all do it differently, but they all get it done. Korliss, you look up he’s down the field. Alex is all over the place and gets it done and then J-Will is a great athlete.
“They all make plays. I wouldn’t want to have anybody else back there.”