Some college football teams have a long history of redshirting freshmen preferring to give a full year of maturity in the weight room and on the practice field before unleashing the former high school talents onto the college gridiron. When it comes to Arkansas, the luxury of slowly bringing along a 4- or 3-star prospect is not necessarily an option, as third-year head coach Bret Bielema slowly restocks the talent shelf left bare from the Bobby Petrino era.
Arkansas is in great shape on offense with nine starters returning (including running back Jonathan Williams, who is expected to miss the regular season due to a foot injury), but will more than likely look to a few freshmen to fill in some gaps on defense with just five starters back in 2015.
Here are five true freshmen who should have an immediate impact for the Razorbacks this fall.
1. Ryan Pulley, CB
Pulley has shrunk and gained muscle mass since leaving Island Coast (Fla.) High School. The Razorbacks have him listed at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, making him a beast of a matchup at corner for any big SEC receiver.
Recruiting services ranked Pulley as a 3-star out of the Fort Myers area but his play on the field in fall camp quickly disputes the rankings. Pulley shined in the Hogs’ first preseason scrimmage, picking off an Austin Allen pass and returning it 41 yards for a touchdown. Arkansas looks like they have its first- and second-string units at cornerback locked in with D.J. Dean and Jared Collins starting, Henre Toliver at starting nickel, and Cornelius Floyd and Pulley manning the second team.
2. Rawleigh Williams, RB
Had this list gone up before Sunday Williams more than likely would not have had a spot in the top 5. But following the injury to Williams, a senior who was an All-SEC selection last season after rushing for 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns, the true freshman Williams could be asked to contribute sooner rather than later.
Williams was a beast in high school for Dallas-area Bishop Lynch, rushing for more than 2,800 yards as a senior and looks every bit of the part so far wearing an Arkansas uniform. During Saturday’s scrimmage he picked up 105 yards on 14 carries, including a 63-yard touchdown run off tackle.
3. Hjalte Froholdt, DT
Froholdt has been a standout in the weight room and on the practice field. The 6-foot-5 defensive tackle has already added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame and is now pushing 300 pounds, getting him closer to being a physically-ready SEC defensive lineman.
The IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) graduate was an early enrollee at Arkansas giving him an eight-month head start on most true freshman playing college football for the first time this season. Junior tackle Taiwan Johnson is locked in at one tackle spot but the other spot is up for grabs. Sophomore Bijhon Jackson, senior DeMarcus Hodge, Armon Watts, and Froholdt will all battle it out to be in the two-deep rotation this fall.
4. Dre Greenlaw, LB
Greenlaw was a do-everything type of player for Fayetteville High School throughout his career lining up at safety and linebacker. The local talent has taken major strides in the weight room over the summer coming into fall camp at 231 pounds, screaming to play outside linebacker for the Hogs.
Throughout the early part of fall camp Bielema has been singing Greenlaw’s praises. Settling in as a second-string Will linebacker behind third-year starter Brooks Ellis, during Saturday’s scrimmage Greenlaw was second on the team with eight stops behind sophomore middle linebacker Khalia Hackett’s nine tackles.
5. Willie Sykes, FS
Sykes might be the biggest surprise on the list considering Rivals rated the Texas free safety as a 2-star out of Spring High School. Sykes has played his way into a second-string role behind Josh Liddell thus far in camp. The Hogs rolled with Liddell as a true freshman last year giving the Pine Bluff, Ark., native two starts in 2014, proving defensive coordinator Robb Smith is not afraid to play the best available.
Since Arkansas has started fall camp there has not been a lot of chatter coming from the true freshmen wide receivers as some may have hoped. Junior college transfer Dominque Reed has played well but many believed La’Michael Pettway (6-2, 205) could have challenged for a spot early.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.