FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas sophomore Korliss Marshall said he really knew only two plays during his stint at running back late last season.
Toss right. Toss left.
It was hard to ask for much more from Marshall, who spent most of the season practicing with the defense. But when the Razorbacks decided to use him at running back midway through the year, Marshall made the most of his limited knowledge of the playbook by averaging 8.6 yards on 17 carries.
“I did pretty good,” said Marshall, who finished fourth on the team in rushing yards (146). “Just that extra burst. I utilized my speed whenever I’d get the ball. Especially on toss plays. I mean, I just don’t feel that I can be caught so just run as fast as I can.”
Arkansas believes he’ll do even better now that he’s a full-time running back.
The Razorbacks decided to move Marshall to offense for spring practice, giving the sophomore a chance to compete for carries in a backfield that includes Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. So he’s jumping into the complete playbook for the first time since arriving, trying to build on what he began late last season.
“He’s doing a great job. He’s learning what he’s doing,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “I think Joel (Thomas) is loving working with him. He’s excited. He’s an energetic, strong, very talented football player and we’re real pleased to have him with us full-time right now and seeing where that goes.”
The potential is obvious. Every time Marshall touched the football last season it looked like he was shot out of a cannon. He provided a hard-charging change of pace on those toss plays, breaking off big play after big play.
Still, Arkansas made it clear when the season ended that Marshall was returning to his preferred position — safety — in the offseason.
But that changed when Bret Bielema met with Marshall earlier this winter.
“I was actually talking to Coach B and he was telling me I needed to be on the offensive side of the ball and they wanted me on the offensive side of the ball,” Marshall said. “He told me a year or two down the road, maybe, if I wanted to play safety and I could help us in the long run. So I’m going to think about that. …
“But I think I’m going to stick to running back.”
Williams said that was part of Marshall’s problem last year. He, too, was indecisive about where he wanted to play at Arkansas. But Thomas believes the spring, so far, is proof that Marshall has found a home in the Razorbacks’ backfield.
“It’s been awesome. It’s competition,” Arkansas running backs coach Joel Thomas said. “You get, not just a body, but a guy that’s a very, very good athlete. Very strong. Powerful, fast, all that stuff. It’s been a nice addition to our room.”
Marshall hasn’t been perfect through four practices. He’s new to the offense after all.
Chaney pointed to on example Tuesday, saying the running back busted an assignment on a route out of the backfield. But Chaney said Marshall is a “sharp kid,” who is doing well in the offense as he learns every little detail this spring.
Marshall said he’s patiently absorbing the information this spring. Blitz pickups are typically the hardest things to learn for running backs, but he’s improving. Marshall said he’s also working on running between the tackles and following blockers.
“That’s one thing that I’ve really got to work on because I’m just basically a north-south runner,” Marshall said. “Never been an east-west runner. So that’s just something I’m going to have to work on and pick up as we develop this spring.”
Thomas said the Razorbacks know Marshall will get there.
He admitted thinking about what might have been if Marshall was a full-time running back when he arrived on campus last summer. But the most important thing, Thomas quickly added, is that he’s working with the offense now.
“He’s put his time into preparing this spring to learn the offense and it’s showing up when we’re out there,” Thomas said. “He’s doing really good things right now.”