Be patient, Arkansas Razorback faithful; Coach Bret Bielema will have your wonderful program restored to all its wonderful glory in little to no time.
While it may look bleak at the moment, your coach’s propensity for building a top-notch team — by way of being physically dominant on both sides of the ball — is already underway. His 68-24 record at the University of Wisconsin should not be sneezed at (albeit in the inferior B1G 10 Conference).
With the advent — and I use that term loosely — of spread offenses we mustn’t lose sight that the game will always be decided in the trenches. Even up-tempo, spread offenses like Texas A&M and Auburn’s are piloted by legit NFL talent across the offensive lines. And those same teams are laden with future NFL personnel at the running back position — which is something Bielema knows a tad bit about.
Let’s face it; not many do offensive lines — and running backs for that matter — like Coach Bielema.
The Badgers have supplied the professional ranks with some of the best college linemen in recent memory: Joe Thomas (Cleveland Browns), Kevin Zeitler (Cincinnati Bengals), Kraig Urbik (Buffalo Bills), Gabe Carimi (Atlanta Falcons), Peter Konz (Atlanta Falcons), Travis Frederick (Dallas Cowboys) and Ricky Wagner (Baltimore Ravens) have all been under the tutelage of Bielema.
Running backs P.J. Hill, John Clay, Montee Ball (Denver Broncos) and James White (New England Patriots) all donned the Wisconsin uniform — with current future superstar Melvin Gordon being a Bielema product as well.
To put it mildly, the man knows how to recruit and develop talent at key positions. You guys found that out last year with breakout superstar running back Alex Collins continuing the tradition for Bielema.
And while he may not have had a hand in fellow star back Jonathan Williams being in town, his prints were all over his development last season as well. So fear no more; the combination of Bielema, Collins and Williams — meshed with the offensive philosophy — will be tough for any team to deal with.
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Razorback fans are no strangers to great running back corps — especially in recent lore. Personally speaking, the duo of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones was one of my absolute favorites of all time. Both had exceptional speed and agility; both were two of the best playmakers in the history of the conference (or college football for that matter).
McFadden’s 2007 season: 325 attempts for 1,830 yards (5.6 YPC) with 17 total touchdowns, is the benchmark for all Arkansas backs (and possibly the SEC).
Most recently, the trio of Knile Davis, Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo dazzled for a three- to four-year stretch. Davis looked to be the next McFadden with his 1,322-yard performance (13 TDs) in 2010. But injuries derailed the momentum he developed, and his career ended with a whimper.
But Williams (150 attempts for 900 yards and four TDs) and Collins (190 attempts for 1,026 yards with four TDs) may be able to most replicate what Jones and McFadden brought to Fayetteville. And Bielema’s scheme may be able to ensure that.
The 6’0″, 223-pound Texas native may not have gotten the publicity of his cohort Collins, but I bet if you ask any defender around the SEC how tough he is, the answer would be a resounding “ouch!” Because Williams is a man’s man who punishes would-be defenders at every junction.
He has good vision and runs with ideal pad-level. But his effectiveness comes from more than just running the ball.
Williams is money in the passing game. He’s outstanding in pass-protection as his willingness to engage rushers is very apparent. He has no problem striking a defender in the strike zone no matter who it is.
But his pass-catching ability is what separates him from most backs. He runs very good routes for a running back, period. Furthermore, it’s very rare that you find a power back with soft hands, but that’s exactly what you get from Williams.
This is an indelible play to most fans and pundits. Against Texas A&M, Williams caught this screen and unique blend of violence and artistry ensued. It’s very rare for him to be tackled by the initial defender, so being caught in no man’s land, with this monster, is bound to leave a mark.
But the initial defender had help with him and was still left asking for the license plate to the truck that hit him. While Williams has the agility to make defenders miss out in space, he’d prefer to use them as grass seed instead.
That particular play was certainly indicative of that.
This play is much of the same. After taking the delayed draw, Williams was able to avoid the initial defender –with a little assist — and use his vision to set up his next encounter. He then proceeded to drag a host of defenders until the levy broke.
Williams is indeed the backbone of the offense.
As a five-star recruit out of Ft. Lauderdale (Fla), Collins arrived with plenty hype — after his mother infamously ran away with his letter of intent. Collins settled in quite nicely — after the dust settled — when he finally got to Fayetteville.
The 5’11”, 215-pound slasher (not in a theatrical sense, I believe) was worth the wait. He’s a flashier runner than Williams. And although he may not seem significantly faster than the upperclassman, his out-the-gate quickness makes it seem as though he is.
He has unparalleled vision and is very scheme diverse. Bielema employs a pro-style, power man-blocking scheme, but Collins would be just as effective in an area-blocking scheme as well.
Here is a shining example of Collins’ explosiveness. On this routine dive, out of “22 personnel,” Collins’ vision leads him to bend it back outside of the right C-gap. From there he outruns two third-level defenders.
Collins has a similar build and skill set to Washington Redskins’ star Alfred Morris. Both are powerful, shifty and explosive (in the bottom gears). Although the timed speed may not jump off the charts — though he’s been timed in the 4.45 40-yard range — his ability to generate explosive plays is.
On this counter-lead run — out of “21 personnel” tight — Collins displays his ability to work off the fullback. Being able to work with a lead blocker is a lost art these days as most spread offenses don’t employ a fullback.
Collins’ one-cut-and-go style works very well on cut-back runs such as this. He doesn’t lose speed when changing direction, and his zero-to-60 transition is right up there with the best. It’s almost as if he’s shot out of a cannon.
He’s the perfect complement to to Williams and both fit the bill as to the type of backs Bielema requires. Playmakers like these make it easier on offensive linemen as they can create something out of very little.
Moving forward, expect the program to become one of the most physical in the country as Bielema gets a couple of recruiting classes under his belt — especially on defense. But we do know he has the talent on offense to surprise a lot of people in the very near future (and that’s not counting future star Korliss Marshall).
Patience is the key, Razorback fans.