The Arkansas Razorbacks' spring practices are creeping up and are officially set to begin Tuesday, Mar. 30. This is a first part in a series of articles over the following days leading up to Mar. 30, highlighting position battles to watch in the spring.
It is by now well known that the Razorbacks will be without starting quarterback Ryan Mallett because he broke a bone in his left foot, but he will be on the sidelines, and the Razorbacks have a long list of things to accomplish in what many believe is the most important spring of Bobby Petrino's tenure at Arkansas.
The Razorbacks currently are residing in nearly every early preseason top 25 poll, and in most cases, are appearing in the top 15 teams in the nation. With higher expectations that the team wishes to meet comes the need for improvement in a number of areas.
Among the most important areas the Razorbacks look to improve on for the 2010 season is the running game, and Arkansas has plenty of talent to work with in the backfield.
Just days ago, Petrino and a handful of players meet with the media to discuss the spring, and the 2010 season ahead. Among those discussions were plans for the running game and the use of the pistol formation in the running game (Petrino and Arkansas call this formation "shot" and they call shotgun "gun").
Arkansas hired new offensive line coach Chris Klenakis from Nevada during this offseason. Coach K is widely seen as an authority on the pistol formation; in it's implementation at Nevada, they led the nation in rushing in 2009. Nevada also produced an NCAA first three 1,000 yard rushers in a single season in 2009.
In the media conference, Petrino addressed the release that day of the pre-spring depth chart at the running back position that shows star sophomore Ronnie Wingo listed at the top of the list and veteran junior Dennis Johnson at the bottom of the four man list.
In a nutshell, his response was that he feels good about all four of the running backs on the depth chart and that it should be an exciting and competitive spring for the running backs.
So that everyone can be better acquainted with the talented backfield at Arkansas that Petrino and Coach K have to work with this spring, let's take a look at each RB and what each brings to the field.
Each running back will appear in the order they appeared on the latest depth chart.
Ronnie Wingo Jr. (So., 6'3", 227lb)
Ronnie Wingo came to Arkansas as one of the focal points of the 2009 recruiting class. He fits the mold of the coveted "big back" that Petrino likes so much and had success with at Louisville in Michael Bush.
In 2009, Wingo did not disappoint, as he improved every week and helped the Razorbacks in their running back by committee approach.
Just days ago, the Razorbacks did their testing out, and Wingo is one of two RBs to run a sub 4.4 (4.36) forty. He did so while still having added size in the weight room over the offseason.
49 Carries, 319 Yards, 6.5ypc, 3 TD
5 Receptions, 99 Yards, 19.8ypr, 1 TD
Knile Davis(So., 6'0", 216lb)
Next on the depth chart is Knile Davis. Davis also was a highly touted running back in the 2009 recruiting class along with Wingo.
Davis enrolled early at Arkansas, but then suffered a death in the family and an injury prior to the fall. Knile showed his character and how great of a football player he is going to be at Arkansas by fighting through his struggles and getting back on the football field.
In 2009, Davis received limited carries, but he made an impact on special teams and really showed strong improvement over the 2009 season as a true freshman. For many fans, his running style brought back memories of Arkansas' great running backs of the past with his blend of size, speed, stiff arms, and aggression.
He also was timed at a remarkable sub-4.4 (4.37) forty time and was one of six offensive players to bench 400+ pounds (something usually reserved for offensive lineman).
33 Carries, 163 Yards, 4.9ypc, 4 TD
Broderick Green (Jr., 6'2", 248lb)
Broderick Green transferred to Arkansas in 2009 from USC, and in his first season, led the Razorbacks in rushing after senior Michael Smith was lost for the season with a hamstring injury.
Green caused many fans and coaches angst early in the season when he was tackled easily or with first contact. Arkansas coaches worked hard with Green however, and as the season wore on he began to run downhill and to use the 250 lbs frame that he was blessed with.
In 2010 Green will likely continue to be Arkansas' goal line and short yardage situation back, but he proved late in 2009 that he can be an every-down back as well.
This spring, Green will need to show that he can continue to improve, and that he can keep up with the sophomore sensations Wingo and Davis and their blazing speed.
104 Carries, 442 Yards, 4.3ypc, 11 TD
8 Receptions, 104 Yards, 13ypr, 1 TD
Dennis Johnson (Jr., 5'9", 213lb)
Last on the depth chart, but certainly not least, is junior veteran Dennis Johnson.
Over his career, Johnson has had to deal with nagging injuries, which Petrino said in his statement that DJ needs to get better at dealing with.
However, Johnson has also show to be a big game producing running back. He has run for his most yards over the past two seasons over teams the likes of Florida and LSU. And he has done so with a combination of his 4.33 speed and just literally running over players.
Johnson is the smallest back at Arkansas in stature, but he is one big guy and tough to bring down. The rumor is that because he always feels he is dealing with nagging injuries that his practice habits are lesser than his competition and why he is last on the depth chart.
If Johnson can have a breakout season on the practice fields, he could easily climb to the top of the depth chart.
Johnson also handles kickoff returns, where he already holds the Arkansas kickoff returns yardage record, and is seen as one of the most dangerous return men in the SEC.
57 Carries, 342 Yards, 6ypc, 0 TD
10 Receptions, 72 Yards, 7.2ypr, 0 TD
These four running backs will be a primary focus at Arkansas' spring practices and a key component to a successful 2010 season for the Razorbacks.
If Klenakis can get out of these talented RBs some of the magic he was able to produce at Nevada, SEC opponents and national opponents beware. A running game to complement Ryan Mallett and the SEC's No. 1 passing game will spell big trouble for Arkansas' opposition in 2010.
Next up on the Arkansas Razorback Football Spring Practice Preview: Offensive Lineman
This article was written by Blake Stansbery of Born Hog Wild.
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