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Pittman: If Rocket’s fresh, he’s going to get the majority of the carries

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — As a freshman in 2021, Razorback running back Raheim 'Rocket' Sanders proved that he can compete at a high level in the SEC. Entering this season, he has earned the starting spot in the Arkansas backfield.

At the start of last season, Trelon Smith — who is now at UTSA — was the top back for the Hogs. After Smith got a little banged up and Dominique Johnson, Sanders and AJ Green started to shine, it became a committee backfield.

Johnson earned the top spot at running back for most of the second half of the season, and he had 575 rushing yards to go with a team-high seven scores on the ground. He suffered a knee injury in the Outback Bowl win over Penn State that held him out of spring practice and will keep him limited through fall camp.

Even with a healthy Johnson, Sanders would be competing for the top spot at running back. With a very limited Johnson, the No. 1 spot in the backfield is Sanders' to lose.

"Obviously you have a depth chart for a reason, with Rocket being No. 1 on that," Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman said Wednesday. "We just try to keep them fresh. But if Rocket’s fresh he’s going to get the majority of the carries."

Sanders rushed for 578 yards and five touchdowns and added 109 receiving yards and a score. The Rockledge, Florida, native is an elusive back with next-level speed out of the backfield.

Though he won't be a 'feature back' like some teams have, Sanders will get slightly more touches as the first-team back. Pittman said the Hogs will keep the committee approach, but Sanders is the top guy.

"Obviously if you have one who is that much better than somebody else, you’re going to give him 8-10 carries more per game than the next guy," Pittman said. "But kind of where we’re at is we feel like we’ve got three guys that — four when Dominique gets back — that we feel like we can have success with."

Johnson will be limited throughout fall camp, likely not participating in team drills for at least the first half. Pittman said he does not know if Johnson will be available for Week 1 against Cincinnati, but he should be available for the majority of the season.

The good thing for Arkansas is that it still has three other very talented backs. Sanders, sophomore AJ Green and true freshman Rashod Dubinion will likely split carries until Johnson returns.

Having that kind of depth at running back can be appealing for recruits, and it helps current players as far as putting miles on their legs.

"Any time you have the situation like we have, where we’re playing several, you have to find in recruiting the positive about that," Pittman said. "And certainly ours is that if you’re good enough to help us win and get drafted and things of that nature, that the wear and tear on your body wouldn’t be quite as significant as if you’re carrying the ball 25 times a game."

The Hogs will get started with fall camp on Friday around 5:05 p.m. CT.