FAYETTEVILLE — Not many Razorbacks amazed during last season’s football forlorn 2-10 campaign.
But Rakeem Boyd certainly did.
Despite usually operating either clueless or shoulder injury impaired, last year’s big (6-foot-1, 200 pound) and fast junior college transfer running back brand new to the University of Arkansas, led the Razorbacks in rushing.
He averaged 6.0 yards per carry with 734 yards on 123 carries.
He added 165 receiving yards on 23 catches.
Let’s explain the clueless adjective. For Boyd’s football acumen actually is vast given what he accomplished with scant preparation.
But even all the 2018 incoming Razorbacks freshmen, reported to the UA by June for summer school and “voluntary workouts,” were more 2018 UA football prepared than Boyd.
A native of Houston, initially signed and redshirted in 2016 at Texas A&M, Boyd spent the entire 2018 summer completing his academics at Independence (Kansas) Community College after starring there in 2017, to become 2018 UA sophomore eligible.
“He showed up the day before we started fall camp,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock recalled. “So he didn’t know anything the first three or four, five ballgames. What he did know, the quarterback was telling him what to do.”
Casual football fans fancy running back as an easily adjustable position.
Just take the ball and go, they figure.
Running back actually can become nearly as complex as quarterback.
It’s complexities frustrates fans.
They fume when a running back freshman flash stars in the season opener against an overmatched lower division team then mostly sits the following conference game.
Inevitably coaches explain of benching the budding star: “We didn’t want our quarterback toted off the field in pieces.”
Whether carrying out fakes, blocking a blitzer or becoming an emergency safety valve receiver, the running back is an essential part of pass protection.
So between Boyd learning the Razorbacks running back nuances on the job and playing through a chronic shoulder injury ultimately requiring offseason surgery sidelining him all spring ball, Craddock and coach Chad Morris marvel at Boyd’s 2018 autumn.
They relish what he could accomplish in 2019.
After opening with six carries for 12 yards against Eastern Illinois and seven carries for 67 yards against Colorado State and no carries with the shoulder ailing against North Texas, Boyd debuted on the SEC scene with eight carries for 66 yards against Auburn.
He shined with 15 for 102 against SEC champion/national runner-up Alabama, seven for 109, including a 69-yard touchdown, against Ole Miss before re-injuring the shoulder, and 19 for 113 against Vanderbilt after 22 for 99 in the nonconference victory over Tulsa.
Shoulder problems and stiff defenses finished him with 10 for 30 against LSU, 14 for 84 even as Mississippi State slaughtered the Hogs,52-6, and finally just five for five yards against Missouri before exiting reinjured awaiting the surgeon’s knife.
“It was a nagging injury all last year and we feel he had it for some time,” Craddock said. “That’s why you’d see him go out of a game and come back in or go out of a game and not come back in. We felt we had to go ahead and get it fixed so he could be healthy come fall.”
Last spring, it was presumed Boyd would report full go for the August preseason.
And the UA’s July word is: “Rakeem’s shoulder will be good to go when we open practice. He’s had a good summer in the weight room.”
Obviously, Morris and Craddock wish Boyd could have practiced last spring.
But just him observing first-hand with the playbook at hand helped immensely.
“I think his workload increases purely by knowing what he’s doing out there,” Craddock said.
Morris also said Boyd learned much by observing but indeed his tangible spring presence was missed.
“I think when you get Rakeem back it adds another dimension,” Morris said. “It provides depth and it allows the other guys (senior running back Devwah Whaley and juniors Chase Hayden and possibly T.J Hammonds) to have a little bit more fresher legs because you’re able to have a three to four back rotation. I think that’s a big plus.”
Ben Hicks, closing Arkansas’ spring drills as the first-team quarterback after transferring in January from SMU where he had quarterbacked two years for Morris saw Boyd’s potential in brief noncontact sessions last spring and reviewing last season’s game films.
“I think Rakeem is extremely explosive,” Hicks said. “When he can find that crease and go through it, he’s got a shot to take it to the house every time. That’s huge for our running game.”