Paul Petrino has been gone the last two seasons, but the Arkansas offensive coordinator knows exactly what he's got at running back with Knile Davis.
Never mind that Davis missed last season after surgery for a broken ankle in two-a-days. Petrino dug out the video of the 2010 season when Davis rolled to 1,322 yards to get the scouting report on the bell cow running back. He saw that November spree that earned Davis first team All-SEC honors in a league with Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Marcus Lattimore.
"I've watched all his runs," Petrino said. "It's something I'm still studying right now. It's about learning what the players do best. What he did well running the ball well that year are things we're going to try to continue to do.
"It was about the Ole Miss game he started taking over. They got a good plan and idea of what he did best."
Davis was available in the spring, but a decision was made early to hold him out of scrimmages. It disappointed Davis. He wanted to show that he is as tough and nasty in short yardage as ever.
"I wanted out there, I won't lie," Davis said midway through the spring. "I think when you are a football player, you want to be in contact. You want to show what you can do. You want to hit someone and get hit. I thought I was ready for that, but I respect the decision by the coaches. It just makes me more hungry."
Davis has always had hunger. He chewed up the yards to end his sophomore season. He gained 176, 82, 110, 182, 187, 152 and 139 to end the 2010 campaign. He averaged 157.8 in November, the only SEC back to average even 100 in the final month of the 2010 regular season. There were big plays and tough yards in short yardage.
"He can run with power and get you the tough yards, but every time he gets the ball he has the chance to go the distance," Petrino said. "It helps when you can get those big plays and don't have so many 12- and 13-play drives."
Petrino has been around great backs before. One of the best was Michael Bush at Louisville, a power back with a bigger body than Davis. But the Arkansas running back has a little bit of everything and more speed and quickness than Bush.
"I think he's kind of unique," Petrino said. "He has a little bit different type of running style, but he's a great player. Hopefully I'll coach somebody that reminds me of him some day."
Davis prospered in the Bobby Petrino system. He think he will do just as well under the John L. Smith style of coaching. The Missouri City, Texas product said he's been coached a lot of different ways and every one of them produced something to the table. The key is to make sure you take care of your own work load.
The 6-0, 226-pound junior may not be a fair comparison because he is a work horse. He's going to lead by example in all forms of workouts -- on the field or in the weight room. So a change in coaching styles may not matter to him.
But he said he sees a good number of positives with Smith now at the helm. He said he's more of an encourager and quick to pass out a pat on the back for good work. He said that is always a good thing in the weight room and on the practice field.
"I like that approach," Davis said. "I'm someone who is going to get after it anyway, but praise is a good thing for a lot of players. I think the good coach is the one who does some of that from time to time to motivate his team and also knows when it's time to jump someone and push them that way."
Smith has that, too.
"No question, Coach Smith has that," Davis said. "He'll get after you. I am on special teams. I've been on special teams under him. He will let you have it when you miss an assignment. But by the same token, he has something that makes you want to do your best for him. He's the kind of guy that you know is for you. He cares about you as an individual. The guys care for him. It brings something special out in an athlete."
Davis said he has asked to be on special teams again this season despite coming back from a broken ankle.
"I'm the backup kickoff man," Davis said. "I think that's one of my strengths, kick returns. I think the way it is set up right now, Dennis Johnson and Marquel Wade are the top two kickoff return guys. But if one of them gets a bump here or there and they need someone, I'm the guy. I would be excited to be the kickoff man and Coach Smith and I have talked about that. He's okay with that."
Davis is excited about the coming season, with Smith as the trigger man.
"I think he's going to help this team, not hurt it," Davis said. "We know what Coach Petrino brought to the table. He was a really good coach. But so is Coach Smith. I see how he excites our assistant coaches. They want to work for him. They were pleased he was named coach. That's where it starts. Then you talk to the team, it's the same thing. We were all on board immediately."
There is great respect for Smith. Davis didn't mention anything about the former head coach, but he did say the team sees passion in the new boss.
"You need a coach that you are willing to go on the field and risk injury," Davis said. "You want to have passion for the man at the top. Some you don't want to risk injury for. What we have with this head coach is a man that we all believe in. We know he believes in us. Every player on this team will go on the field and risk injury. They will spill blood for this man. They will fight for him. Every man."
Davis said that is the most important thing players look for in a coach.
"That's where it starts as a football player," he said. "Will you risk everything for the man at the top? Will you do it in practice because you respect and believe in him as a man and a person.
"We have that with Coach Smith. You ask any man on this team and they will tell you the same thing. That's a great place to be with a team. That's where we are and it's a reason that I think we are going to have a great season."
What changed on the team with the switch to Smith as head coach?
"The atmosphere of the team, it's been cool and pretty good," Davis said. "I sat down with Coach Smith twice. Some of it was about special teams. We talked about me getting a role on kickoff returns.
"He wanted to talk to me as a leadership role and about making sure everyone finished up school right."
Davis is among the key leaders of the team, along with Tyler Wilson and Tenarius Wright. He's especially close to his quarterback.
"We are really tight," Davis said, noting he and Wilson spoke several times while considering the possibilities of the NFL draft in January.
"We step out off the field and do things together. We'll grill. He hasn't taken me golfing yet. I'm not too good, but we've talked about that and it's probably going to happen this summer.
"I am not much of a golfer like Tyler. I just try to swing at it as hard as I can. I want to hit it a long way. I have no timing or any of that. He's going to have to help me. I'm going to get around to it."
Davis laughed when asked what he thinks of Wilson on the football field.
"You need me to tell me what he can do?" Davis said. "He's already done it. He's a great player.
"What I see that stands out is his confidence. You go in the huddle as a running back -- or a wide receiver or anyone else -- you want to see that confidence. Tyler definitely brings it.
"That's the one thing I need on the field from the quarterback, to know he's going to make the right checks, the right reads and right decisions. We get that from Tyler. Confidence is the big thing.
"He's night and day different from the start of last year to where he was this spring. Night and day different. No question.
"I think a big part of that is Paul Petrino. Since Paul got here he's helped him even more. It's definitely a good thing with Paul here for Tyler."
Wilson is just as high on Davis.
"He's one of the reasons I came back," Wilson said. "He's a great player, very focused and one of the hardest workers on our team. I have great, great respect for Knile Davis."
"Spring was fun for me. I got back in the groove of football. I ran plays. I did everything but get tackled. It was pretty cool. I did kinda want to get tackled. You have to know how to get tackled and how to fall. You have to get used to that.
"Overall, spring was good for me. It was successful for me, for Tyler and for the whole offense. Things looked good."
How did the defense look? Offensive players might get the best look at what's going on with the defense.
"Good, real good," Davis said. "That defensive line is really good. And I know that the defense got better when Tenarius Wright moved to linebacker. He was a good addition there. I liked that a lot.
"We didn't get to see Alonzo Highsmith over there, but you know what he can do. I like what I saw on defense."
The Hogs will be ranked high going into the season, but perhaps not as high after the termination of Petrino. What does Davis think of that?
"First, I'm not a big media hype guy," Davis said. "I don't pay much attention to that part. It doesn't bother me because I don't worry about it. I don't participate in any of that.
"The season will tell the story. Just wait on the season. The season will tell you everything you need to know about this team. The summer hype doesn't matter. What's important will happen on the field and we are the ones in control of that, not the media."
Wilson knows part of his job is to find creases at the line of scrimmage for Davis. He'd like nothing more than to hand off plenty to the big, fast runner. He liked it that the June cover of Hawgs Illustrated depicts him giving the ball to Davis.
"This is just fine with me," Wilson said of the cover idea. "This is what we are going to be doing next season."
Well, the running back said it's all right if the quarterback throws passes to him as well. It's clear that the Hogs want to get the ball to Davis in many different ways. Paul Petrino saw that in the 2010 highlights, too. The Hogs want 2012 to be just like November of 2010 -- with Knile Davis leading the way.
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