I got a pretty creepy feeling Thursday morning when I clicked onto the Arkansas Razorbacks’ official website.
The first thing I saw was a photo of Knile Davis running with the football on the website’s rotating photo window. Then I noticed the red banner above it that read “WHO’S Next?” in big while letters.
Instantly I thought, “that’s mighty calloused even for football.” But then it registered that the banner was a separate standing item on the website advertising RazorVision, and not a headline.
But, the coincidental positioning aside, the banner and photo truly did get to the point that’s on the minds of most Razorbacks fans. Who will be step into the role Davis so thrillingly filled a year ago now that he is out for the season with an ankle injury?
The Razorbacks do have two capable runners behind Davis on the depth chart in Dennis Johnson (5-9, 213) and Ronnie Wingo Jr. (6-3, 231). True freshman Kody Walker (6-2, 235) of Jefferson City, Mo., was impressive Thursday night in Arkansas’ first live scrimmage work of the preseason.
Johnson and Wingo have the potential to be a prime-time back in the SEC, but unlike Davis, neither has done actually accomplished it. That leaves the Razorbacks with a big question mark going into the season.
Don’t forget the Hogs are also without Broderick Green, who was lost for the season late in spring practice to a knee injury. Green specialized in short-yardage running, but also had good hands and could be dangerous when he broke past the first level.
After Tuesday’s practice, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said the Hogs would still have to find out who would be their short-yardage back. Now, he’s looking for a man who can tote the mail on any down.
Johnson has shown promise in the past. In 2009, he rushed for more than 100 yards against Florida and LSU, but he is coming back from an internal injury that sidelined him for the season a year ago. He also practiced inconsistently his first two years, which made Petrino leery of depending upon him.
Wingo came to Arkansas with sterling credentials and much promise, but the big man’s tendency to jitter and juke in the backfield has kept him tied up and down his first two seasons.
To his credit, Wingo had the best spring of any of Arkansas’ backs, showing the determination to hit the hole at full speed, bull with his shoulders and be content with making one move instead of getting all tied up by attempting three.
In all likelihood, Razorbacks fans will see running back by committee this season, but the Hogs truly need to have Johnson, Wingo, the freshman Walker and junior college transfer Kiero Small (5-10, 255) to perform well beyond what they have shown thus far on the collegiate level if Arkansas is to make it an upper tier bowl once again this season.
Senior reserve cornerback De’Anthony Curtis (5-9, 211) has worked both at running back and receiver during Petrino’s tenure at Arkansas, but costly fumbles during the 2008-09 season sent him to the bottom of the depth chart and to the other side of the football. Plus the Razorbacks aren’t exactly flush with depth in the secondary either.
No doubt, Davis’ injury is a blow to the Razorbacks’ national aspirations. Arkansas’ SEC West schedule – with trips to Alabama and LSU — would be grueling enough will all hands on deck.
Davis’ injury just amps up the pressure even more on presumed starting quarterback Tyler Wilson and Arkansas youngish and inexperienced offensive line.
But Davis’ injury is the very reason Petrino and his staff had stockpiled talent at the position.
The injury coming this early in camp certainly gives Arkansas time to adjust, and unlike in 2007 when wide receiver Marcus Monk went down with a knee injury that sidelined him for much of the season and he never fully returned from, the Hogs do have the talent on hand to adjust with.
Wingo and Johnson have to accept Davis’ injury as their opportunity to make things happen like Davis did last year.
But with three weeks until the first contest and tough 12-game schedule ahead, it has to be discomforting as a Razorback fan to know that arguably your best player is out for the season.