Hogs Look for RB Replacements

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas running backs coach Tim Horton, who was on the road recruiting Monday, was not surprised the top two players on his depth chart have decided to forego their senior years and enter the 2008 NFL Draft.

But now that running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones have, officially, announced their pro plans, the Razorbacks have to replace them. That's not easy considering the backs combined for 10,890 all-purpose yards and 71 touchdowns in their careers. But Horton said Arkansas welcomes the challenge.

"We feel like we've still got some good running backs in the program and we're obviously recruiting several," Horton said. "We are just really happy for Darren and Felix and want them to do so well. I think they made a choice that was best for them and their families.

"At the same time now, we've got to move on and try to do the very best we can to replace them."

Arkansas' offense, of course, will change under new coach Bobby Petrino. But two running backs who will contend for the starting job are Michael Smith and Brandon Barnett. The 2007 backups are Arkansas' top returning ball carriers after rushing for 303 and 136 yards, respectively, in 2007.

Smith earned extended time against Tennessee and Mississippi State after Jones suffered a deep thigh bruise. Barnett turned in a big outing against North Texas, rushing for 105 yards and a touchdown.

"Anybody that plays, or is on the team, wants to play," Horton said. "And when you play running back and Felix Jones and Darren McFadden are in front of you, you don't get to play as much as you want. I think individually they're looking forward to this opportunity and I think they'll take advantage of it."

But early opportunities also will be available for newcomers. Horton said the Razorbacks are looking for running backs and have commitments from two prospects — Camden High's De'Anthony Curtis and Texarkana High's Dennis Johnson — with three weeks remaining until national signing day.

Arkansas' offense isn't expected to be as run-heavy as it was under former coach Houston Nutt, but Horton believes playing running back in Petrino's offense remains attractive. The chance to follow in the footsteps of potential first-round draft picks in McFadden and Jones doesn't hurt, either.

"I think most high school kids just want an opportunity to play," Horton said. "In their eyes, they see that opportunity as well they should because, again, we've lost two, great, great players and we need some other younger players to come in and take up their slack."

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