2021 PREVIEW: Smith hopes to lead stronger rushing attack for Razorbacks

Junior running back Trelon Smith was recently named to the watch list for the Doak Walker Award / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

One of the stated objectives for the Arkansas Razorbacks for the 2021 season by head coach Sam Pittman is to run the ball more effectively than the Hogs did a year ago.

The Razorbacks averaged 151.3 yards rushing a game and had a 3.8 yard-per carry average, very mediocre numbers for a team that prides itself on toughness and physicality.

Pittman acknowledges the Hogs’ running game is a work in progress from the standpoint of blocking, quarterbacking and running by the backs, coached by Jimmy Smith, who is in his second year at Arkansas.

Expected to lead the way again this year is junior running back Trelon Smith (5-9, 190) of Houston, who led the Razorbacks in rushing last year with 641 yards on 115 carries for a solid 5.6 yards per carry average. Smith also scored 5 touchdowns in a season in which he began as a backup but was thrust into the starting position because of an early injury to Rakeem Boyd and covid-19 contact tracing.

Smith said in springtime Zoom interview that he and the Razorbacks’ offensive line expect to have a better season this year than last.

“Our offensive line, all I’ve got is positive things about them,” Smith said in the spring. “In the offseason, they had it on their mind to be a different O-line this year. Those guys bust their tail across the board. They are working hard.”

While the Hogs want to use speed to their advantage, Smith said the Razorbacks’ identity will be built around a physical approach to the game.

“We want to be a smash-mouth football team,” Smith said. “On third and two and third and three, we want to be a team that can hand off the ball and go get those yards, those first downs. Coming into this season, we want to show everybody that we can do that. I’ve talked to the O-lineman, and they’ve talked to me. That’s huge. We want to get this done together. We want Coach [Kendal] Briles to know on third and two or three, we don’t have to pass the ball. We can just hand it off, and we can go get it for him. That’s our main focus.”

Smith, who is known for his winning smile and positive attitude as well as his quick feet, has embraced a leadership role at the position that added three freshman runners to the group.

All highly recruited, the trio of Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, Javion Hunt, and A.J. Green have the type of ability to possibly make an impact this year.

Raheim Sanders, Javion Hunt and A.J. Green / Photos: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

Sanders (6-2, 220) of Rockledge, Fla. and Hunt (6-0, 205) of Oklahoma City went through off-season conditioning in the winter with the Hogs and spring practice. They impressed Smith with their confidence, effort, and talent.

“Coming in (as freshman), you could definitely have the jitters, but Javion and Rocket are doing well,” Smith said. “They are picking up thing very quickly. They are learning from me. I’m back there trying to coach them up on things and catch them up as fast as possible. Those guys are ready. They are out there learning and picking up things as fast as they can.”

As a senior in high school, Sanders split time at receiver, running back, and linebacker. He rushed for 317 yards and four touchdowns and made 24 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns. He had 237 yards in kick-off returns with a touchdown.

Hunt played running back and safety in high school. He rushed for 771 yards, scored 12 touchdowns, and made 5 receptions for 61 yards.

Green (5-11, 194), who was rated the No. 2 player in Oklahoma by 247Sports and the No. 3 player in the state by ESPN, joined the squad in the early summer. He played running back and cornerback in high school, and as a senior, he rushed for 1,325 yards with a 7.7 yard-per-carry average and scored 19 touchdowns.

“It’s different, but I knew this time would come,” Smith said of his leadership role with the running backs. “The young bucks look up to me, and so I want to step up and lead them in the right direction. Coach Smith brought me in the office and told me that I’m the leader in the room. I need to show the young ones how to do things and also coach them up if they need something or want to learn something. I want them to come to me, player-to-player, and I can help them.”

Senior T.J. Hammonds (5-10, 190) of Little Rock showed his explosiveness and his hands last season with a 51-yard reception and a 39-yard carry against LSU. He’s not an every-down back, but can be situationally dangerous.

Junior Josh Oglesby (5-8, 175) of Katy, Texas, has sprinter speed as a member of the Razorback track team. He proved he could be a playmaker in the spring out of the backfield and on the edge.

“Oglesby looked good after his rehab from his injury,” Smith said. “He’s come a long way trying to get back after being hurt. Just to see him back in the mix, I’m happy for him. He’s back lifting and running. As far as his injury goes, it’s behind him.”

Sophomore Dominique Johnson (6-1, 240) of Crowley, Texas, is a physical runner with uncommon size among Arkansas’ runners. He might be able to play his way into a role and make his power an asset in preseason workouts.

* This is the seventh in a position-by-position series previewing the 2021 Arkansas football team.