State of the Hogs: No. 33

Dennis Johnson is back and the Hogs are smiling. It isn't just about production, but that's not a bad place to start.

Some act like I've already glossed over the loss of Knile Davis to a broken ankle. I've said it often in the last month: Arkansas will miss Davis this season.

But it will likely be in November when the injuries begin to mount around the SEC. You can't ever have enough quality running backs to play against the type of defensive players that line up every week in the SEC.

That is the bottom line, but Arkansas is not at the bottom of the well. If ever a team is equipped to play without Davis, it is this Arkansas team. It is this coaching staff.

That second part is huge, too. The Hogs have a staff that can come up with lots of creative ways to utilize what is still an extremely skillful set of receivers and backs.

And all of them are going to get better each week. Ronnie Wingo, De'Anthony Curtis, Kody Walker and Kiero Small are going to be better this week than they were last week.

How do I know that? Past history. Running backs coach Tim Horton has proven that his group improves. And head coach Bobby Petrino and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee are going to scheme the best ways to utilize his group.

Obviously, there is also help on the way. Joe Adams is going to make plays at running back. So is Dennis Johnson.

Yes, the bowling ball on wheels is back. That's what some called Johnson the week he ran through defenders two years ago at Florida. It's been one year since Johnson played in a game. There should be an ovation when he takes the field for the first time this season against Troy on Saturday night.

Johnson missed a lot of preseason camp with a lower back problem that transferred to his hamstring. He ran well in team conditioning Sunday night, then had a strong practice Tuesday to the delight of coaches and teammates. Johnson's smile is infectious and all caught it during that workout.

"Yeah, you just can't help but smile when Dennis is out there," Adams said afterwards. "He's playful and he likes to have fun. Having him back out there with us was a lot of fun."

Johnson was kidding Adams about his efforts to take some of the running back snaps. Adams jabbed back that he was trying to copy DJ's running style.

"I told Dennis that I was going to run like him, you know, run over some guys," Adams said. "He liked that."

Johnson means a lot to this Arkansas team. He was probably the best back on the team in the 2010 preseason camp. He has immense talent. He has great vision and the ability to hit a special gear in the open field. He is awesome on the outside stretch play when defenders have a hard time finding the short, powerful back. And when he makes that cut, he's gone. That burst is awesome.

But the reason the running game will be OK is deeper than just those backs. Yes, you have to have great backs in the SEC, but you also have to block. This offensive line is improving every day. The wideouts understand that they have to block to unleash the running game. The good thing about depth is that if there is a wideout who won't block, he won't play and he won't be missed. They will block. Watch Greg Childs trying to earn playing time against Cobi Hamilton. Watch Cobi. They were weapons in the running game last week.

Put your field glasses on center Travis Swanson and you'll also see the work of his sidekicks at guard, Alvin Bailey and Grant Cook. They are wonderful to watch on the counters, traps and screens as they pull and hit linebackers and safeties. If you can take your eyes off of the backs and follow those inside blockers, you'll understand why I don't worry about the Arkansas running game. Line coach Chris Klenakis promised his troops would play nasty or not play when he arrived. These men are nasty.

Perhaps that's why Dennis Johnson smiles so much. Maybe he knows what's about to happen. He's seen how many yards running backs make in this offense with the safeties sitting deep.

Yes, Arkansas will miss Knile Davis. But not as much now that No. 33 is back.

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