Smith's Role Unclear

FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has a plan for how much work he wants to give each one of his running backs in Saturday's season opener against Missouri State.

But Petrino said he isn't going to tell anyone what's in store.

Apparently, anyone includes senior Michael Smith.

"I don't know if he knows how many times I'm going to touch it right now. He hasn't expressed that to me," Smith said. "But what he has expressed is that I need to be ready at all times. ... That's pretty much all he's really told me."

So Smith's role, which will be redefined because of Arkansas' backfield depth, won't be revealed until Saturday.

While the specifics remain unclear, one thing is known: The Hogs aren't planning to lean on the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Smith as much as they had to in 2008, when he carried the rushing load en route to 1,072 yards and eight touchdowns.

Smith accounted for 78.7 percent of the team's rushing yards, but the work took its toll. He often needed intravenous fluids at halftime and was running on fumes in the fourth quarter. His body eventually broke down late in the season, forcing him to miss the LSU game.

That's why Petrino signed Broderick Green, Ronnie Wingo and Knile Davis in the offseason. Combined with returning backs Dennis Johnson and De'Anthony Curtis, the Razorbacks want to make Smith's job easier in 2009.

"We have an idea of how we want to operate it," Petrino said Tuesday. "How many balls we want to get him in the first half. How we're going to rotate other guys in there."

Smith doesn't want his role to be too easy, though.

"That's all dependent on me and how much I can handle or how much coach thinks I can handle," Smith said during Petrino's radio show last week. "So I'm out there making sure every day that he knows that, yes, there will be some segments in the game when I need to come out and get a quick breather. But let's just make sure that that's quick."

There's no question Smith is Arkansas' best back. His speed, explosiveness and toughness were on display in preseason practices and in limited scrimmage work. Smith carried the ball just six times in Arkansas' scrimmage on Aug. 22, but that included a 45-yard run.

Arkansas wants to tap into those big-play skills, while giving Smith chances to catch his breath.

Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said the goal is to keep Smith fresh so he's a threat in the fourth quarter.

"Early in the game when those safeties come up to hit you, we want to punish them," Petrino said. "Then come the fourth quarter, they've been getting hit by about four or five different backs. ... Then sometimes they mysteriously take a bad angle that fourth quarter and don't get there to make the tackle. That's when you get your long runs."

Smith's teammates believe he's capable of putting up similar numbers even with fewer carries. Quarterback Ryan Mallett said Smith proved he was an every-down back last year and the Razorbacks still want him to produce like one.

Smith's days of carrying the football 35 times a game — which he did in consecutive weeks against Auburn and Kentucky last season — are likely over. But he's eager to find out exactly what Petrino has in store for him this season.

"You always want to touch the ball as a ball carrier and I'm looking forward to that," Smith said. "But I'm also looking forward to not being exhausted in the fourth quarter or having to get an IV at halftime.

"I think if I don't have to do that or I'm not exhausted in the fourth quarter, I'll be more productive."


Michael Smith

Height: 5-foot-9.

Weight: 180 pounds.

Position: Tailback/punt returner.

Class: Senior.

Hometown: Tallahassee, Fla.

Notable: Second-team All-Southeastern Conference pick last season, after rushing for 1,072 yards on 207 carries. ... Named to All-SEC preseason first team this year.

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