A Stable Of Backs

University of Arkansas running backs coach Tim Horton is a happy camper as the Razorbacks get ready to start preseason practice with seven legitimate options at the tailback spot.

Even though he didn't get to hit the golf course on Thursday because of rain, Tim Horton felt like the sun was shining on him.

You would too if you had just found out that USC transfer Broderick Green (6-2, 248) had been ruled immediately eligible and you now had a stable of seven different legitimate threats at tailback.

"To be honest this is the first time since I have been here – and this will be my third year – that we have that number," Horton said. "We have seven guys that can play. The cream will always rise to the top and the ones that produce are the ones that will get to play and the ones that don't perform that well won't have that role.

"To be honest in my career I have never had that many to have to choose from," Horton added. "I think the competition will be great."

That group is led by senior Michael Smith (5-9, 180), a preseason All-SEC first team pick who took the mantle from NFL-bound Darren McFadden and Felix Jones and ran for 1,072 yards and 8 TDs last season.

It also includes returnees in sophomores Dennis Johnson (5-9, 205) and De'Anthony Curtis (5-9, 215), senior Brandon Barnett (5-8, 211), Green and celebrated freshmen Ronnie Wingo (6-3, 218) and Knile Davis (6-0, 213), the latter of whom was able to go through spring practice.

"I really like the group and the young guys have been accepted very well," Horton said. "I know Ronnie Wingo has fit in real well. Knile Davis been accepted from day one and I think a lot of the credit needs to go to Michael Smith because he is our leader in that room. He sets the tempo with his work ethic and his attitude. When you have got a leader like that it makes things a lot easier for the coach."

Davis and Barnett were both injured during the spring.

"All the reports that you get are very positive on Knile," Horton said. " I don't know about Brandon Barnett to be real honest because his rehab has maybe not progressed as well as Knile's. We anticipate Knile being there from day one."

Adding in Green should help an offense that struggled mightily in short yardage situations – be it near the goal line or not last season.

"That was a big concern and I think one of the things when you go back and you watch tape all summer and how can you get better," Horton said, "well, it wasn't from a lack of effort. It wasn't from a lack of scheme. It probably was from a lack of size as much as anything.

"Last year really Michael Smith weighed about 165 pounds when he was playing in mid-season," Horton said. "Whoever that is – whether it is Dennis or Broderick or Knile or Ronnie Wingo – when you can put a 240 or 220 pound back there, that one yard is a little easier to get."

Green is obviously the biggest of the group.

"Obviously we think he can help us in goal line and short yardage situations and he is also a very good pass protector – probably our best," Horton said. "When teams want to try and get one-on-one with a rusher with a small back, you can put Broderick in the game, he can hold up and pass protect very well."

Horton also thinks the Razorbacks' offensive line play will be improved this season.

"We are so much better this year than we were last year at that area," Horton said. "I think our offensive line is going to be really good. I think it is going to be a strength of our team."

There is not a plan to put a redshirt on either Wingo or Davis.

"I think about the great backs in the league and they have been good as freshmen," Horton said. "We've got some talented freshmen. We recruited them with the idea that they would be really good players and are still of that mindset."

Horton has plans for the running backs to have an impact on other areas as well.

"One place we would like to see is the running back role expand is in the special teams," Horton said. "There are some key plays where the running backs need to be on the field and making them whether they are the return guys or protecting on punts or covering a kickoff. If you produce, you are going to get on the field."


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