Johnson's New, Improved Attitude Shows

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coaches have noticed a change in Dennis Johnson's attitude over the past few weeks.

He seems more mature. He's practicing harder than he did a year ago. And as one of at least six running backs competing for playing time, he has tried to show Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino that he's too fast and versatile to be redshirted this season.

"Somebody has to get redshirted," Johnson said. "Hope it's not me."

Despite making an immediate impact last season as a record-setting kick returner, Johnson said he has taken a more serious approach heading into his sophomore season.

He admitted he has a better attitude about practice, and as a result, has stood out in a crowded backfield over the first two weeks of practice. His place on the depth chart appears to be advancing as well.

"He's a year older, he's a year more mature, so hopefully he's a year better," Arkansas running backs coach Tim Horton said of Johnson.

With returning starter Michael Smith limited to only one series, Johnson made the most of his extensive reps in Arkansas' first full preseason scrimmage Saturday.

The 5-foot-9, 205-pound sophomore unofficially led the Razorbacks with eight catches for 72 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown on a screen pass from first-team quarterback Ryan Mallett.

Johnson also tried to dispel the notion that he's not tough enough by unofficially rushing 12 times for 31 yards.

"You should appreciate those chances to show the coaches that you deserve playing time. I mean, what more can you ask for from them?" Johnson said. "They want you to come out there and make big plays for them. You go out there and you show them what you can do."

Petrino said afterward that Johnson stood out in the scrimmage, and Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino admitted Monday the sophomore has benefited from all the competition at running back.

Smith is the starter, but Johnson is among at least five other tailbacks vying for the chance to share the backfield with the 1,000-yard rusher. Johnson was listed as the No. 4 running back heading into preseason camp.

"I think here by the end of the next week (the competition) will start sorting out better, but definitely the competition is there," Paul Petrino said. "Dennis played hard last Saturday, and I think that competition played a big role in it. He came out and ran real hard, did some nice things."

As a freshman last year, Johnson had more of a presence on Arkansas' special teams than offense. His 905 kickoff return yards set an Arkansas single-season record, and his 96-yard return for a touchdown against then-No. 19 Tulsa proved to be the go-ahead score in a 30-23 win.

But Johnson's role on offense was limited. He had only 57 yards rushing before he had a breakout performance in the season finale against LSU.

With Smith sidelined with a hamstring injury, Johnson rushed 18 times for 127 yards and one touchdown to go along with his six kickoff returns for 103 yards in the 31-30 upset.

But he admitted he's a new man now.

"This year I have a better attitude," Johnson said. "I'm trying to help everybody out."


Dennis Johnson
Age: 19
HEIGHT: 5-foot-9
WEIGHT: 205 pounds
Class: Sophomore
Hometown: Texarkana, Ark.

Notable: Johnson started the 2008 season opener as a freshman because Michael Smith was suspended, but he rushed for only 18 yards on six carries. … He had a bigger impact on special teams, where his 905 kickoff return yards shattered Arkansas' previous single-season record of 652 set by Felix Jones in 2007. … He finished second on the team in rushing behind Smith with 36 carries for 184 yards and one touchdown.

Dennis Johnson

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