Curtis ‘Driving' For More Carries

FAYETTEVILLE — There's no mistaking the thought running through Arkansas sophomore De'Anthony Curtis' mind this spring.

When asked what he worked on during the long winter Tuesday night, the running back's answer was simple.

"Driving my knees up," Curtis said.

When asked how he has turned in big plays during Arkansas' scrimmages this spring, it was more of the same.

"By driving my knees up," Curtis said.

And when asked what he must do to earn a significant spot in Arkansas' backfield rotation next season? You guessed it.

"Keep driving my knees up," Curtis said again. "If you keep driving your knees up, it will help you break tackles and run faster."

The Camden native enters Arkansas final six spring practices with a clear goal. At 5-foot-9, 211 pounds Curtis wants to run the football with more power and, in turn, hopes it helps him earn a place in what should be a crowded backfield in 2009.

Curtis struggled in that regard last season when he rushed for 76 yards (3.3 a carry) in 10 games as a freshman. Curtis called it a "tough" year, but putting it in the past has been one of his motivations in the offseason. He spent the winter adding more strength to his frame and worked to improve his flexibility.

All of it is supposed to help him get his knees up to break tackles and gain yards after contact when he runs the football.

"He's really doing some great things, but one thing he's got to do better is his leg drive right before contact is made," running backs coach Tim Horton said. "That's been a point of emphasis for him and if he can do that better, I think he'll get better."

Curtis has seen how much it can help. During Arkansas' scrimmage on March 28, he turned in its biggest highlight on a 30-yard touchdown run. He broke several tackles en route to the end zone.

Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said it showed Curtis' "unwillingness to go down." Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said it gave Curtis some much-needed confidence. Coach Bobby Petrino said it was an indication that Curtis has taken a step forward.

"He's getting better in his ability to break tackles," Petrino said.

Curtis is getting a chance to show his durability, too, because of the injuries that have hit Arkansas' backfield this spring.

The Hogs are practicing without freshman Knile Davis (broken ankle) and sophomore Dennis Johnson (foot). Starter Michael Smith is sidelined after undergoing offseason hamstring surgery.

The absences have left Curtis and Southern Cal transfer Broderick Green handling most of the repetitions with the first team.

"Everybody has been saying we've got a lot of running backs so reps are limited," said Curtis, who rushed for 94 yards on 14 carries last Saturday. "When they went down, I knew my reps would be high and I knew I had to perform at a high level."

Of course, Curtis knows the competition will intensify in August when Smith and Johnson should be healthy again. Green is still holding out hope he'll be ruled eligible to play by the NCAA, too.

And then there's freshman Ronnie Wingo, Arkansas' biggest offensive signee, who will fight for playing time immediately.

So Curtis said he'll continue to make the most of the extra repetitions this spring. And he'll continue to concentrate on his goal — driving his knees up — when he touches the football.

"Everywhere you go, it's competition," Curtis said. "If you don't perform at a high level, somebody is going to come take your spot."

De'Anthony Curtis

Position: Running Back

Class: Sophomore

Height: 5-foot-9

Weight: 211 pounds

Hometown: Camden

Notables: Finished as Arkansas' third-leading rusher in 2008, gaining 76 yards on 23 carries. ... Also caught eight passes for 68 yards. ... Entered the spring as Arkansas' third-team tailback, but has shared first-team work with Broderick Green because of injuries and absences. ... Rushed for 94 yards last Saturday. Had 57 yards and a 30-yard touchdown run in scrimmage on March 28.

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