Stable is Full

While the passing game and the battle to name a new starting quarterback will grab headlines throughout the month leading up to Arkansas' season-opener against Missouri State, it is the run game that has perhaps received the biggest facelift.

Injury-riddled and undersized in 2008, a talented crop of newcomers add depth and physicality to the Razorback backfield, a pair of factors noticeably absent a year ago.

"It's no secret that we struggled in the goal line and short yardage area last year," said Arkansas running backs coach Tim Horton. "Broderick Green is 245 pounds, so he's 75 pounds bigger than Michael Smith. So when you need to push the line back to get that yard, he's got a better opportunity to do so than Michael.

"All of our other guys are over 215 pounds so they give us a good option."

Smith rushed for 1,072 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago before a hamstring injury ended his season prematurely. At just 5-9 and 180 pounds he averaged nearly 21 touches per game and his concussion midway through the season was just one of the many injuries sustained throughout the year.

While the Tallahassee-native will still be the Razorbacks' featured back in 2009, coaches made a concentrated effort to alleviate some of the pressure. It started with the signing of a pair of highly-touted backs in Ronnie Wingo and Knile Davis, and was amplified by the transfer of Green, a 245-pound bruiser granted immediate eligibility after transferring from USC.

"We do have a little bit of a problem in the sense we have quite a few cards to choose from," Horton said. "There are going to be some good football players on the bench. At the same time I'd rather be in that position as opposed to a year ago when I thought Michael was really the only one that was truly ready to play early in the season. The knowledge of the offense, the speed at which we can play and the ability to put a fresh player in there to make a huge play each series will really help us."

The depth can be good and bad, said Wingo, who was arguably the most heralded offensive player in Arkansas' 2009 signing class.

The St. Louis native ran for 4,449 yards and 48 touchdowns as a senior for St. Louis University High School and broke or tied 12 single-season or career records at the school.

"They went from three running backs last year to 10 this year," said Wingo, who rushed for 403 yards and seven touchdowns in one game as a senior. "You don't get as many reps as you'd like but when you get in you take what the defense gives you and do what you've got to do.

"I think the biggest thing I need to learn is the adjustment to the speed of the game. Everybody has speed and in some cases is just as fast, so that's one of the hardest things. I have to figure out how to use my size and speed to my advantage."

Wingo has plenty of both qualities. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds Wingo ran a 10.59 in the 100-meter dash as a senior. Those numbers have translated to the field so far.

"He's done well. We're pleased with Ronnie," Horton said. "At the same time you don't want to jump out there and say he's super-great and the next Heisman Trophy winner because we haven't put on pads yet. But the first few days look positive. He's probably got better ball skills than I thought he did coming out of high school. He can adjust to a ball and catch a ball really well; has good speed. He's not there right now but he's been impressive the first few days."

Wingo spurned his home state Missouri Tigers to come to Arkansas in a move that surprised many in the recruiting circles. He said he can't say exactly what changed his mind, but there have been no regrets.

"I thought I was going to go to Missouri and I woke up one morning and my heart was with Arkansas," he said. "I love the fan support, the coaches and the staffs they have in place, and the players.

"I'm blessed. I love my decision because nothing has changed from the coaches or the players, and fan support is even crazier than I thought it would be. I went out to the first practice thinking it was just for us and before we even stepped out onto the field we saw at least a couple of hundred people out there waiting on us."

And that support also comes with expectations. Alongside Davis – who has missed Arkansas' first three practices of the summer following the death of his father – Wingo is drawing comparisons to one-half of another freshman running back tandem in Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.

"It's motivation every day," said Wingo, sitting next to a full-size poster of Jones on the team's meeting room door. "With those two I understand people are always going to try and compare us with them or ask who is better, but what I don't want to be known as the next McFadden – I want to be Ronnie Wingo. I don't have a choice because of what they did here. I've just got to do what I do."

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