Running Backs Shine In First Scrimmage

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas still has two tailbacks with very different body types and very different running styles splitting time in the backfield.

But which one will be the starter in the fall?

After the first week of spring practice, the competition between Michael Smith and Brandon Barnett to be Arkansas' starting running back remains close. And both juniors made another case for themselves during the team's first scrimmage inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Sunday.

Smith continued to show his quickness by darting through holes and gaining a team-high 84 yards on 15 carries. His longest run was a 16-yard scamper that helped set up Barnett's second touchdown of the afternoon.

"For me, it went OK," Smith said. "There was a couple tough runs in there, and I showed the coaches that maybe I can take a hit and keep on going, get those tough yards that we need to get in the SEC."

Smith admitted, however, he was disappointed that he wasn't able to break off a "home run" like former Arkansas running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were known for during their careers.

Still, Smith's elusiveness left an impression on first-year Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino.

"I think Michael Smith caught my eye with his quickness," Petrino said following the two-hour practice that included an hour-long scrimmage.

Barnett, who's three inches taller and 33 pounds heavier than Smith, showed his versatility by catching passes out of the backfield and gaining yards after a run.

He scored the scrimmage's first touchdown on a 15-yard carry out of a draw play, and he added a 1-yard score on the next possession.

Barnett finished with nine rushes for 45 yards and two touchdowns, and he also had four catches for 29 yards. Afterward, he downplayed the notion that he was simply a powerful goal-line option.

"I don't worry about it. When my number's called, all I know how to do is get out and get the job done," Barnett said. "When my number's called and (the coaches) need me to come in and do certain things, I just go out and give my all."

Barnett had a productive day, but he also had several noticeable mistakes. He fumbled once when he couldn't hold onto a pitch from quarterback Ryan Mallett, and the tailback also struggled with pass protection.

"He's got to make sure he doesn't get the quarterback hit, and he did that a couple of times today," Petrino said. "But I really liked the way he ran the ball and the physicalness he showed. He's a compact little guy that can run hard so that helps."

Meanwhile, returning starter Casey Dick was the most efficient of all the quarterbacks during the scrimmage. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 102 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Dick's lone touchdown pass came on a 4-yard fade route to London Crawford, who led all receivers with five catches for 46 yards and a score.

"I thought Casey operated pretty well. We tried to throw some pressure at him and a lot of different looks at him," Petrino said. "He handled them for the most part pretty well."

Mallett looked good early on, but the Michigan transfer struggled with his accuracy and finished 7 of 13 for 60 yards. He also threw a few erratic passes.

Redshirt freshman Nathan Dick went 3-for-6 for 50 yards and one touchdown, and junior Alex Mortensen completed his two pass attempts for nine yards.



Gregory Held Out

Running back Chip Gregory did not participate in Sunday's scrimmage because of the ankle injury he sustained Saturday.

The sophomore, who moved from linebacker to tailback this spring, was in uniform and participated in drills before the scrimmage. But Petrino said he decided to hold Gregory out of the scrimmage portion of practice.

"He had a couple of nice runs early and then he tweaked it," Petrino said. "I actually made the decision to hold him out."

Cornerback Jerell Norton also missed the scrimmage because of a hamstring injury. The junior has missed the past two practices.



Mix and Match

Senior Jose Valdez and junior Michael Aguierre split time with the first-team offensive line during Sunday's scrimmage.

Valdez started most of 2007 at left tackle before being slowed by an ankle injury the last month of the season. He opened the spring atop the depth chart, but offensive line coach Mike Summers said no job is safe this spring.

"We're just trying to find the five best guys that all work together," he said. "So we'll mix and match until we get that figured out."



Week One Done

Arkansas wrapped up its first week of spring practices with Sunday's scrimmage. The Razorbacks will take Monday off, then return to the practice field Tuesday afternoon.

"We put a lot in, a lot of offense, a lot of defense," Petrino said. "... We didn't do everything right, that's for sure. But I do like the attitude of our players. I do like the effort."

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