FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas running back Korliss Marshall has watched his teammates get plenty of recognition this offseason.
Junior Jonathan Williams and sophomore Alex Collins are on preseason watch lists for the Maxwell and Doak Walker awards. They’re on the cover of preseason magazines, becoming marquee names for a program recently nicknamed “Running Back U” by ESPN because its success at the position since 2000.
Make no mistake: Marshall believes his teammates deserve the notoriety.
He just expects to be part of the conversation by the time 2014 ends.
“I use that to motivate myself every day because a lot of people are not looking for me,” Marshall said. “I plan to shock the world this year.”
Marshall, who was last seen running through Arkansas’ defense in the spring game, is gearing up for what he believes will be a breakout season in the backfield.
The Osceola native showed flashes as a freshman, when he made an impact in limited carries and the return game while splitting his time between running back and safety. But he’s sprinting into his sophomore as full-time running back now, one the Razorbacks believe will have a big impact on an offense carving out its identity.
“He’s a very special player,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said Monday. “Pound for pound he might be one of the most explosive players I’ve ever been around.”
It’s a bold prediction for a coach that has produced his share of elite running backs while at Wisconsin. But Marshall’s potential is no secret to the Razorbacks.
They’ve watched an impressive north-south runner rip off big gains since making a full-time move to the position late last year. He averaged 8.6 yards on 17 carries last season and gained even more momentum in Arkansas’ Red-White game, sprinting for 99 yards and two touchdowns on six carries in the spring finale.
Marshall has described himself as the “speed guy” in Arkansas’ backfield, but has devoted the past few months to becoming more of an all-around back.
For starters, Marshall said he has added 15 pounds since his arrival last summer and now weighs 205. He’s also working to become more instinctive as a runner, following blockers instead of being simply a “north-south” player. Then there’s pass protection, which is one of the most difficult things for many young backs to grasp.
“A lot of things from spring ball are carrying over to fall camp,” Marshall said. “I’m getting a little bit better with my protection, a little bit better with my vision and getting better with the bumps and bruises that I had over the course of spring ball.”
Marshall also feels more comfortable with Arkansas’ playbook.
He was only given a few plays to execute after moving to running back in the middle of the 2013 season, but got his first full look at the playbook last spring. So there was plenty to grasp as he settled into the position full-time in the spring.
“It actually feels good because you can move around a lot faster when you know what you’re doing,” Marshall said. “That’s something they stress a lot because when you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re out there confused you’re probably the only one out there that doesn’t know what to do. So it feels really good to know exactly what to do and have the playbook down and know my rules and techniques.”
Arkansas running backs coach Joel Thomas said it’s good news for the offense.
“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.”
Arkansas hasn’t said much about how it plans to spread the ball between the three running backs this season. Coaches and players have simply said the hot hand will get the opportunities on a game-to-game basis.
Marshall is determined to make the most out of every chance.
“I just feel so comfortable once I’m on the field,” Marshall said. “Everybody has that little feeling before the game, a little bit nervous, but after the first play or two you just bounce into the game and it’s time to put up or shut up.”