FAYETTEVILLE — Jimmy Smith coaches the running backs at Arkansas and has a very deep room with several proven performers.

Smith has Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, AJ Green Rashod Dubinion and Dominique Johnson who have all played extensive amounts. In addition, true freshman Isaiah Augustave joined the team in early June. He was a four-star recruit at Naples (Fla.) High School. Smith met with the media following Saturday’s practice and recapped the first two days.

“It went well,” Smith said. “First day was pretty good. My head is spinning a little bit with a lot of young guys, but overall the guys did a good job.”

Sanders is now up to 242 pounds, but has actually gotten faster. Sanders is coming off a season that saw him carry 222 times for 1,443 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 28 passes for 271 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“Exactly what you just said,” Smith said. “Bigger, faster, stronger. It’s kind of surprising. Honestly, we had certain weights we wanted them to be at. His was 235. I talked to him and he said the only way to get to 235 is to lose muscle. We don’t want him to do that so he stayed where he was. Rocket is one of those guys who competes every day like he’s eighth-string or something. He competes and goes hard all the time.”

Smith was asked if he has ever been around a running back room this deep?

“Honestly, from the outside it looks difficult but for me it is fun,” Smith said. “I’ve got 1A, 1B, 1C, and I’ve got Dominique and Isaiah on the way. It ain’t difficult for me. It’s fun. They compete. Like I say about the guys all the time. It’s fun because I know one is going in to run for 10 and the other one is thinking maybe I can run for 15. The next one is saying give it to me and I’ll run for 20. They’re not selfish at all. They all want to see each other be successful, and they all want to do better. It’s a fun thing for me.”

Green rushed 87 times for 414 yards and three touchdowns last season. He also caught seven passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. He looks even better now and Smith agrees.

“I told him this is one of the biggest jumps I’ve seen in an offseason,” Smith said. “AJ is special. He’s very fast and athletic, but now he is starting to trust himself and trust his speed. He’s evolved into a college running back now. Before I had to put him in special situations because I thought, ‘He might be able to do that, but he might not be able to do this.’ Now he trusts himself. I’m looking for good things from him. I’m really excited about him.”

In the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Sanders went down early with an injury. That allowed Green and Dubinion to get extensive action. They didn’t disappoint. Dubinion carried 20 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns. He also grabbed three passes for 19 yards and was named the game’s Offensive MVP. Green rushed 13 times for 99 yards and a touchdown. He led the team with four receptions for 30 yards. Smith feels like the bowl game helped both.

“It was exciting,” Smith said. “A lot of times from the outside looking in it seems like a big deal, but for them it wasn’t. Rocket was like, ‘Okay coach, they’re ready.’ He said he could go back in, but I said nah. The other guys had it. We were excited about it. We were in two-back personnel and we only had two backs. We still stayed in it because we trust those guys so much.”

Smith stated how he will determine the rotation this fall and if Green and Dubinion can take some of the pressure off of Sanders.

“It’s a tough question because when you’re rolling, I have a rotation for the first two backs,” Smith said. “After that it’s more of a feel. The first two guys know when they’re getting in. They know who’s going to start, who’s coming in second and when they’re coming in. After that, it’s more of a feel. So, I don’t know if it will be less carries, but I do want to get the ball in other guy’s hands as much as possible because they’re doing a good job.”

In 2021 prior to two ACL injuries, Johnson played in 13 games with six starts. That season he had 97 carries for 575 yards and seven touchdowns. Since then he has only managed eight carries.

“Honestly, he surprised me because mentally, he’s doing a great job,” Smith said. “No fall off. He was doing a good job of when he wasn’t playing, he was staying involved and I had him on the other field, kind of coaching the guys up and staying involved so he’d know what to do so when he did come back, he wouldn’t have any setback mentally. Gotta get his body going back like it was before, but he’s doing a great job of knowing exactly what I want him to do. I don’t want to give him too many reps and I don’t want to break him down. I want to build on it bit by bit. We talk about that, so he understands what the situation is.”

Sam Pittman said recently that Dubinion is in the best shape of his career. Smith feels that is a huge plus for the sophomore.

“It’s going to benefit him a lot,” Smith said. “Rashod is a football player. He loves football. But when he first got here, the weight room was something he had to do, not something he wanted to do. As time went on, he started lifting weights and saw his body changing. Now he knows and he’s started enjoying the weight room. Coach (Ben) Sowders held him accountable and started making him do it. Then once he started making him do it, he saw the changes and he started wanting to do it. It’s going to be really good for it.”

Smith also went into a little more detail on the pecking order for running backs.

“It goes through the rest of the season,” Smith said. “That can change weekly. They know it could be Tuesday and you have a horrible practice, you better have a good one on Wednesday. That’s what pushes Rocket so hard is because he learned when he first got here that there’s a starter for a week. There’s not a starter for a season, there’s a starter for a week. Everybody’s got to earn their keep every week. It’s a big deal for you to practice good everyday, because we’re in the business of winning games. We’re in the business of putting the best person out there. That’s our philosophy — best person out there at that time. Every week, you never know who is going to be the starter.”

Arkansas will return to the practice fields on Sunday morning.