As Arkansas gets back to spring practice Tuesday afternoon, it will do so with a bigger, smarter and certainly more confident Darius Winston.
It was easy to see during the Razorbacks' first week of spring practice that Winston (6-0, 185) – a junior-to-be cornerback – is finally coming onto his own.
"I have been focusing on what I have got to do to the best that I can be," Winston said. "I definitely have the plays down. That allows me to anticipate more and stay one step ahead of the game. It has made me a much better player and it is time for me to show what I am capable of."
Winston came in as a 5-star high school recruit out of Helena-West Helena Central, the banner signee of the 2009 class.
He admits he was burdened by expectations, weighed in the 160s and lacked strength and it's clear he was behind the others in his class that got a full summer in with their teammates while he finished up academic requirements and didn't arrive until August.
"There was pressure at first and I wasn't ready to handle that," Winston said. "But I look at it as a learning process. I grew as a person, I grew as a player and got on the field more last season. Now I am ready to lock down a spot and be an every down player in every game."
During this spring, Winston and fellow vet Isaac Madison are both working at the field corner as Razorback head coach Bobby Petrino wants his best defensive back there.
"What we wanted to do was on our field corner, Isaac Madison and Darius Winston, we need to find out who the best guy is because that is the toughest position to play," Petrino said. "During the last part of the season, Darius played the boundary side. We could easily do that right now, but we want them to compete. We want them to learn who the best cover guy is, who is our best shutdown corner and then adjust from there."
Winston has enjoyed working at the same spot as Madison.
"That competition has just been fun," Winston said. "We are pushing each other hard and have each other's back. We know that we are trying to make each other better players."
Madison agreed it has been fun with the two most experienced guys at the same spot – although that could change in the fall in Coach Willy Robinson's defense.
"It's been interesting having somebody right next to me just as talented as I am," Madison said. "It makes us both get better.
"…Coach (Robinson) explained it to me that I am going to have you two guys competing at the field corner position and I want you guys to go at and have to play up."
Winston, who had six tackles as a freshman and improved that to 23 with an interception while playing in 12 of 13 games last season, said that he has learned it is all about consistency in practice and carrying that into the games.
"The biggest thing was just being consistent every day," Winston said. "I think that has been my biggest problem, not coming out and finishing through the whole rep. That is what I am eliminating in practice and what I will take to the game."
Winston is certainly more muscled-up then when he first arrived.
"Being bigger is going to help me be more confident to come up and fill the hole and make the tackle on a running back when I need to," Winston said. "That's the biggest part of my game where I needed to improve – my run support."
Winston has always been a very quiet and shy young man on and off the field, but he is getting out of that now.
"I am just trying to get guys pumped up," Winston said. "I am more comfortable speaking up now and I am just trying to let my energy go to other guys so they can get into it like I am now."
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