New Number, Fresh Start for Wendel Davis

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas linebacker Wendel Davis insists he has no special ties to No. 10.

The senior had never worn the jersey number until this spring, when he got permission from Arkansas coaches to make a switch. He's not wearing it to honor someone. He doesn't even know anyone who wore it — other than former Arkansas quarterback Nathan Dick, who had the number the past two years before transferring last fall. Davis said the reason he traded in the No. 47 he wore last season was simple: He needed a fresh start. "I wanted a change," Davis said. "I didn't like the way I performed. I was sitting around thinking I'd like to have a new number and decided to see if coach would allow me to get a new number. It's just a change for the better." The new look seems to have reinvigorated Davis, who is determined to rebound from a disappointing year. He is expected to be a playmaker in Arkansas' defense in 2009 and has looked the part through five spring practices. Two examples: He delivered a big hit on running back Broderick Green (6-foot-1, 242 pounds) during the first day of full pads on Friday. One day later Davis intercepted a pass from quarterback Ryan Mallett in the 93-play scrimmage. "Wendel is playing a lot faster now," said linebacker Jerry Franklin, who plays alongside Davis in the defense. "He's gotten more comfortable. His knee has gotten better. He's been a better leader on the field for us, too." It's a welcome sight to Davis, who said he struggled to get through 2008. The trouble started when he tore a knee ligament last winter, underwent surgery and missed spring practice. As if that wasn't enough, Davis ran into even bigger problems just before preseason practice began when he broke his hand in an on-campus altercation with a student. Davis started the season slowly as a result of the injuries, but found his way on the field. He eventually started seven games and turned in some solid outings, including his 12-tackle performance against Florida. But the good times didn't last because of a sprained ankle that sidelined him at the end of the year. "It was real tough," said Davis, who was sixth on the team with 53 tackles. "I've been through a lot." Linebackers coach Reggie Johnson said Arkansas still learned plenty about Davis despite his struggles. "We asked a lot of Wendel coming off the knee injury, which he hurt in late February or early March," Johnson said. "To come back and play in September, that's asking a lot of a kid. But he fought through it and I couldn't be more proud of the kid. He showed some toughness." The Razorbacks believe Davis is better because of it. He tested well in the weight room this winter and has been one of Arkansas' quickest linebackers and biggest hitters this spring. He showed both skills Tuesday when he sprinted and collided with tight end D.J. Williams. The hit popped Davis' helmet off, but kept Williams from breaking a big play. "That's what you want," Johnson said. "For us to be successful on defense, we have to play physical at the linebacker position. We have to run. We have to tackle." Davis said he wasn't completely capable of that type of performance on a regular basis last season, but knows it's more likely because he's healthy and happy. Arkansas' new No. 10 has gotten a fresh start. "It means a whole lot," Davis said. "I do it cause I love it. Certain things you have to go through at certain times, but it's in the past. It's time to move forward."

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