Ground Game Remains ‘Concern'

FAYETTEVILLE — Before spring practice began, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino pinpointed the ground game as one area that needed to show improvement after struggling in 2008.

A few days after the spring-ending, Red-White Game in Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Petrino said improvement is still needed.

"There were times during the spring where I felt like we were getting it and we were starting to improve," Petrino said during a post-spring news conference. "Then in the spring game, I kind of feel like we took a step backward in the running game."

Arkansas' backs combined for 255 yards in the spring game, but 115 came on big plays by De'Anthony Curtis (55-yard touchdown) and Adrian Moore (60-yard touchdown).

The scrimmage closed a spring that was marred by injuries for the running backs. Freshman Knile Davis was sidelined after suffering a broken ankle midway through the spring. Teammate Brandon Barnett went down later in the spring with a broken tibia.

In addition, Michael Smith was sidelined because of offseason hamstring surgery. And sophomore Dennis Johnson missed time because of a foot injured that hindered his performance.

"He didn't have a good spring," Petrino said of Johnson. "A lot of that was because he had a foot injury. His ability to play with that or not play with it was a concern for us."

The Razorbacks were also frustrated by three fumbles in the spring game and some problems in short-yardage. Petrino said transfer Broderick Green proved to be a good short-yardage back, but it's not clear whether the NCAA will grant immediate eligibility next season or make him sit until 2010.

"It's still a concern until we do it live," Petrino said of the short-yardage game. "I think we worked hard and got better at it, but I think that's still a concern until you find out if Broderick Green is going to be eligible immediately or not."

Battle Up Front

The Razorbacks expect competition at every position, but one intriguing spot to watch when preseason practice begins is at nose guard. Zach Stadther, who missed the spring game, is competing for the position with both Patrick Jones and Alfred Davis.

Stadther started at the spot last season, but Jones filled in with the first-team defense last Saturday. Davis turned in a strong night with the second-team with six tackles and one sack.

"He's a guy that is really hard to move," Petrino said. "He's 320 pounds and is very physical and plays low. So the ability to move him around in the run game is hard. He's shown that."

Tejada Talk

Petrino said place-kicker Alex Tejada had a "good" spring after special teams coordinator John L. Smith tried to simplify the junior's routine hoping it would lead to more accuracy.

"We spent a lot of time on it," Petrino said. "He worked hard on it. One thing Coach Smith has done is try to limit what he thinks about doing. He gets his plant foot right, swings his leg and the follow through and he can really kick it.

"He has a tendency to punch the ball and stop his follow through and then he's not very accurate. If he can just follow through and swing his leg, and concentrate on those two things, then we feel like he could have a much better year for us."

Drink Milk

The broken bones in the backfield has led to a policy change around the training room.

"There's milk at every training table and we're making sure our players are drinking it," Petrino said. "Any time you have two broken bones at the same position, I don't know if that helps, but it sounds like maybe it would."

Arkansas is hoping it will help solve Davis' injury problems. The Razorbacks were concerned the newcomer was injury prone when they recruited him, but Petrino also believes there is another explanation for his second broken ankle in less than a year. The plate put in Davis' ankle in high school needed to be thicker.

"The hardware that's in there, the plate and the screw size is more suited for a 6-2, 215-pound elite running back than for you or I," he said. "I think maybe that had something to do with it."

Wade a Concern

Petrino is confident injured players like Smith and receiver Lucas Miller, who underwent surgeries in the winter, will be ready to return to practice in August. But Petrino said he is concerned about one other player who underwent knee surgery: receiver Marcus Wade.

"He's not as far ahead as he should be," Petrino said of Wade, who ran with a limp all spring. "He got some work in spring ball, but not as much as you would think being that far from surgery.

"He's worked hard at it. He spends extra time with the strength and conditioning staff and with the trainers, but his flexibility and his deceleration is bothering him as much as everything. Being able to slow down and stop. That's a concern for me.

"I'm not sure why he's not further ahead than he is."

A Growing Tradition

Arkansas welcomed back its 2008 senior class and former players like Darren McFadden, Shawn Andrews and Ken Hamlin last weekend. The senior class was honored at halftime and the former players took part in the ceremony.

"That's something we'll try to build on, have a tradition of giving out the senior's awards at halftime and getting as many ex-players involved as we can," Petrino said.

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