FAYETTEVILLE — Apparently redshirt freshman backup quarterback Malik Hornsby and true freshman backup running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders opened eyes during Arkansas’ closed scrimmage last Saturday.
Wearing the No. 5 immortalized by former Razorbacks 2-time Doak Walker Award winning and 2-time Heisman Trophy runner-up running back Darren McFadden logged plenty of first-team time last week including the scrimmage with fourth-year junior and 2020 Arkansas leading rusher Trelon Smith withheld because of turf toe.
Sanders seized the day all week, Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said. Among his runs during the full-scale scrimmage were 39 and 6-yard touchdowns.
Track team sprinter convert Josh Oglesby, redshirt freshman Dominique Johnson and true freshmen Javion Hunt and AJ Green, with Green sidelined injured last week including the scrimmage, have also competed behind Smith and are behind Sanders, too.
“No. 5 is No. 2,” Pittman said post scrimmage of Sanders in the running backs pecking order. “He ran well. He ran hard. Had a good day. A really good day.”
A December high school graduate from Rockledge, Fla. recruited as a receiver but moved to running back last spring, Sanders’ week of first-team practicing manifested in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“He improved so much from in practice,” Pittman said. “ I think he gained a lot of confidence last week.”
Pittman said Sanders realizes his “Rocket” nickname doesn’t just apply to his speed around the perimeter.
“If they nicknamed me Rocket, I’d try to run the ball outside and you guys all know I ain’t got no speed,’ Pittman said, laughing. “That’s what he was trying to do, trying to cut the ball outside. He’s 228 pounds, man.”
Rocket can blast inside with speed, Pittman said.
“That’s what he’s doing a little bit more now and that’s what he did today,” Pittman said. “If you’re fast and you’re that size, make some people tackle you.”
Senior starting left offensive tackle Myron Cunningham said Sanders has earned the line’s respect.
“He runs fearlessly,” Cunningham said. “He’s a hard runner, just like 22 (Trelon Smith). They both run way bigger than what they are.”
Arkansas junior defensive end Zach Williams said Sanders is now as apt run over you as run by you.
“You can’t just try to wrap him up and fall to the ground,” Williams said. “He will take you for about a good 5 to 10 yards. If you hit him, you’ve got to hit him real good.”
The scrimmage scoring summary released by the UA showed Hornsby, 6-2, 180, of Missouri City, Texas tallying touchdown runs of 80 and eight yards and throwing 45-yard and 15-yard touchdowns to receivers John David White and Kendall Catalon.
All encouraging, particularly given Hornsby’s so-so showing when media did see him playing in last spring’s Red-White game.
Hornsby began August drills seeming not that far ahead of fourth-year junior John Stephen Jones, a one-game starter in 2019 not used last year, Ole Miss walk-on transfer Kade Renfro and true freshman Lucas Coley.
He’s distanced from them now behind third-year sophomore starter KJ Jefferson.
“He’s No. 2,” Pittman said Saturday. “There’s not anybody, in my opinion, right now that’s that close to him as a 2 quarterback.”
Speed is Hornsby’s strong suit.
“Malik is a fast little bugger,” Zach Williams said. “You have to be outside of him. If not he’s just gonna outrun you and put you in a blender.”
Still, as a running quarterback practicing in a don’t tackle him caution jersey, it’s hard to gauge Hornsby’s effectiveness in practice.
Does he break an 80-yard touchdown run because the defense pulls up or was he was denied on another run because of a too quick whistle?
Pittman said as a passer two Hornsby aspects are obvious.
“He’s getting better in the pocket but he has to get better,” Pittman said. “He can roll out and throw the football. When he’s running out he’s getting better at throwing the football and he’s a major threat with his feet.”
With UA fall semester classes beginning Monday, the Razorbacks will practice Monday through Friday afternoons this final preseason week and have a no-contact dress rehearsal Saturday preparing for the Sept. 4 season opener against the Rice Owls at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.