Fullback Hillis Helping Arkansas' Ailing Pass

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas fullback Peyton Hillis doesn't need anyone else to give him constructive criticism.

The self-deprecating senior does more than enough of that on his own.

For example, Hillis doesn't think he's a good athlete despite being one of Arkansas' most versatile players. He figures he's little more than a blocker for tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. And, with his college career winding down, Hillis believes his chances of landing in the NFL are slim.

"Since I've been up here, my confidence has really shot downhill," Hillis said.

That may be, but Arkansas' confidence in Hillis to play a vital role in its ailing passing attack has grown the past several weeks.

Hillis has emerged as the Razorbacks most reliable receiver after catching five passes for 56 yards and a touchdown in the 34-15 win against Tennessee-Chattanooga last Saturday. He leads Arkansas with 17 catches for 178 yards and two touchdowns this season and will be counted on for more when the Razorbacks (3-2, 0-2 in SEC) play No. 22 Auburn (4-2, 2-1) on Saturday.

"He can run every single route that a receiver can, so that makes him even more valuable," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "He's been a real plus for us in our offense and a guy that we've had to rely on."

In reality, Arkansas has few options. Senior receiver Marcus Monk is sidelined with a knee injury. Crosby Tuck and Ben Cleveland are out, too. Robert Johnson missed the last game with an ankle injury.

Arkansas never planned to toss the ball 40 times a game, but injuries have left no more than a few scholarship players for quarterback Casey Dick to throw to.

So Hillis has lined up all over the field, whether it's in the backfield at fullback, near the line of scrimmage as an H-back, or even in the slot as a receiver. In fact, Hillis said he has probably caught most of his passes out of the slot.

"I think I've already got as many catches this year as I did all of the year last year," said Hillis, who caught 19 balls in 10 games in 2006 before being sidelined with a thigh injury late in the season. "So that's good. Hopefully that will keep building. I feel like I can contribute in that area of the game."

Hillis also has become a bit of a rarity in the SEC: Arkansas is the only conference team whose leading receiver is a running back.

Their top three receivers are all backs. Hillis, Felix Jones and Darren McFadden to combined for 31 catches. The rest of the team has 35.

"We go out there and we try to take the pressure off the running game and off the quarterback," Jones said. "We try to pick up the little four to five yards every pass play and that helps out a lot."

Hillis is glad to be on the receiving end of most passes, but also knows what it means: The Hogs vertical passing game is struggling. Hillis said Arkansas' mentality of throwing it only when it has to must expand if there's any hope of crawling back into the SEC Western Division championship picture.

"There's a lot of things we've got to get done," Hillis said. "I don't see ourselves as really being too ready in the passing game. That's not our mentality, to pass the ball. It's to run the ball, run the ball some more and when they're down, run the ball a little bit more. So of course we need to get better."

But Hillis, if nothing else, said he's confident that will happen Saturday.

The Conway native chalks up his own confidence slip to lofty expectations when he arrived on campus in 2004. He has gained more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and scored 18 touchdowns in his career, but said unattained 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 100-yard receiving days were in his original plans.

Dick, the player who has counted on Hillis the most this season, said it doesn't diminish his value to the Razorbacks.

"We can always depend on him to make a play, make a catch," Dick said. "He's a big guy. He can run real well. We have to continue to get the ball to him."

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