Smith Ready To Run

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas running back Michael Smith said it felt like the first week of practice.

It had nothing to do with the weather, which was much colder than the summer's 100-degree heat. Or the anticipation of a new season. Instead, the running back said the demands eight straight weeks had placed on his weary body had practically disappeared Tuesday.

"I feel a lot better," he said. "I feel fresh for Week 11."

That's good news for the Razorbacks (4-6, 1-5 in Southeastern Conference), who are hoping a rejuvenated Smith can help them keep bowl hopes alive when they play at Mississippi State (3-7, 1-5) on Saturday.

The junior, who leads the SEC in all-purpose yards, participated in his first full practice since being knocked out of the South Carolina game with a shoulder injury on Nov. 8. Smith didn't take part in any contact work and isn't 100 percent, but is confident he'll be ready to run after being held out last week.

"It didn't even feel like it was just one week off," Smith said. "It felt like it was multiple weeks off. I got a lot of time to get my entire body back. I'm very happy they gave it to me. ... It definitely didn't feel like I had a bunch of wear and tear on me these last few weeks."

For that reason alone, the bye week came at a perfect time for the Razorbacks. In fact, Smith said he's not sure if he would've been able to play a week ago after leaving late in the second quarter at South Carolina.

Smith didn't don his pads last week and didn't even run until Friday, when he did some work just to get his blood pressure up. Instead, he concentrated on rehabilitating his worn down body with hopes he'd be healthy enough to carry the load the next two weeks.

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said he noticed a difference Sunday, when Smith participated in the Razorbacks' 80-minute practice. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said it also was still apparent Tuesday.

"He looked a lot fresher," he said. "It was good for him last week to have the time off. He moved around well."

Said quarterback Nathan Dick: "He's a new Mike Smith."

Injuries had begun to take a toll on Smith, who has rushed for 1,012 of the Razorbacks' 1,135 yards this season. In addition to his shoulder injury against the Gamecocks, a concussion sidelined Smith in the fourth quarter of the 21-20 loss at Kentucky on Oct. 18.

He is wearing a neck roll in his shoulder pads this week in hopes it will help prevent further injury.

"I may go through some contact (today) to get those hits under my belt," Smith said. "But this point you're just going through and understanding what the opponent is going to do and just being prepared for Saturday."

Arkansas wants backups Brandon Barnett and Dennis Johnson to help Smith stay fresh, too, by giving them more opportunities Saturday. It hasn't happened so far this season, but seems more likely after the pair combined for 73 all-purpose yards at South Carolina.

Either way, Smith said he's ready for any amount of work after a much-needed and well-timed week off.

"I haven't felt my legs feel this good in a long time," he said. "Just running up and down the field, you feel like a kid again. I'm going to try to use that to my advantage."

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