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Depth at Running Back No Longer a Problem For Arkansas

Roger Gowens@RazorsEdge56Correspondent IAugust 27, 2009

DALLAS - JANUARY 1: Rasheed Johnson #35 of the Arkansas Razorbacks carries the ball against the Missouri Tigers during the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic on January 1, 2008 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

What a difference a year makes.

Just 12 months ago, the Arkansas Razorbacks entered the 2008 football season with a lot of uncertainty at the running back position after the departures of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones to the NFL. Both left with a year of eligibility remaining.

It was believed that Michael Smith could be a solid SEC-caliber back, but with few carries to be had after McFadden, Jones and Peyton Hillis, also in the NFL, Smith was very much an unproven commodity when the game was on the line.

While Smith established himself early in the 2008 campaign as a force to be reckoned with, true freshmen backups DeAnthony Curtis and Dennis Johnson struggled to run the ball from scrimmage (though Johnson was a record-setting kickoff return man).

Curtis had a momentum-changing fumble in the Kentucky game, which, combined with a defensive collapse, led to the Wildcats fourth-quarter comeback in a 21-20 Hog loss.

Like Bob Dylan sang 40 years ago, the times, they are a-changin'. In 2009, Smith, Curtis and Johnson all return, with Johnson having a stellar performance in the season ending win over LSU.

That's not the only good news for the Hogs. The trio are joined by another talented trio, USC transfer Broderick Green, a 6'2", 240 pound jackhammer, and freshmen Ronnie Wingo and Knile Davis.

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Green should provide a lift in the redzone and in short yardage situations that the team was missing last year and according to head coach Bobby Petrino, Green is a solid receiver and good in pass protection. Look for the Hogs to "go Green" often in 2009.

There has been some debate among fans as to whether Davis and/or Wingo should redshirt in 2009 or play. With Davis' history of injuries, a redshirt would not be surprising at all.

However, when it comes to Ronnie Wingo Jr., as they say in New York, fuggetaboutit. No way Wingo redshirts. The young man got 19 carries in a recent scrimmage; not fodder for a player who wouldn't figure on playing immediately.

Petrino has been quoted as saying that there is something special about Wingo, while staying mum on Knile Davis. My guess is with both being in the same recruiting class and Davis coming off a broken ankle in the spring, that Davis will sit in 2009.

That's just a guess, mind you, but it's very unlikely that Wingo redshirts, barring an injury between now and the middle of September.

For one thing, Wingo at 220 is the only big back besides Broderick Green, with Dennis Johnson and Curtis being between 200-210 pounds at most.

Michael Smith right now is the probable punt returner with Dennis Johnson returning kickoffs, so an injury to either could weaken the Hogs at more than one position.

DeAnthony Curtis has been looked at at receiver some, telling me that Wingo will play, especially with senior Brandon Barnett still having knee problems.

Four or five backs will be needed before the season is over, and Petrino loves big backs. Look for Michael Smith to get the most carries, but not 90 percent plus, as in 2008.

Look for a little of a committee approach with Smith getting 15-20 carries with 20 or so split up fairly evenly among the others.

The Arkansas backfield has gone from Michael Smith being lonely at the top to an embarrassment of riches in one year.

Potentially, this group can really carry the mail while making opposing defensive coordinators go postal. All they need is a nickname.

Hmmm. This group can be more efficient than the postal service. FedEx ground does a good job. How's Feral Express? A feral is a wild beast, after all, kind of like a wild Razorback...

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