Will Winston Play? Even He Isn't Sure

FAYETTEVILLE — As soon as Darius Winston walked through the tunnel of Reynolds Razorback Stadium, at least six reporters swarmed him and began asking him one question after another.

It's not often that a reserve cornerback — let alone a freshman whose name isn't on the opening-day depth chart — garners this much attention. But Winston isn't your typical scout-team player.

The West Helena native arrived on Arkansas' campus in early August as the school's first five-star recruit since Darren McFadden in 2005. He was the biggest name to sign with the Razorbacks in February.

And though Winston has had difficulty adjusting to college life, the Internet message boards have been buzzing lately over whether he'll play this season or be redshirted like many other freshmen.

"I'm not too sure about that right now. My coaches haven't notified me about anything," the soft-spoken Winston said. "We'll just see this weekend or the next few weeks. As of right now, I know I'm dressing out this weekend."

As Arkansas prepares for Saturday's season opener against Missouri State, it's uncertain whether Winston will make his debut in War Memorial Stadium or have to wait perhaps another year before he gets a chance to show his potential.

The freshman isn't among the five cornerbacks whose names are listed on the depth chart released by Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino on Monday.

However, defensive coordinator Willy Robinson left open the possibility of Winston playing on Saturday, saying there might be some situations "that we can throw him in."

"Darius is doing a nice job. I've asked him to play both (cornerback spots) — left and right — and he's done a nice job at both," Robinson said. "(He) still lacks a little strength. He's not quite as aggressive as I'd like him to be yet."

Winston has had to play catch-up since learning July 13 that the NCAA cleared him to play this season. He moved to Fayetteville in early August after his teammates had spent the summer taking part in Arkansas' offseason conditioning program.

Winston, who's listed at 6-foot, 180 pounds, said he has gotten a better grasp on Arkansas' different defensive schemes over the past few days. But he admitted he still feels a bit out-of-place being on a new team.

"I kind of feel like I'm not truly in sync with the team yet, as a whole with the defense yet," Winston said. "The speed of the game isn't really a problem. I feel like I've adjusted to the receivers, but just being with the team as a whole (is still an issue)."

Robinson admitted that Winston is "an awfully talented young man," but the freshman continues to struggle on run defense. He's not as physical as Robinson would like, which perhaps explains why the freshman isn't working with either the kickoff or punt return coverage teams.

So would Winston mind redshirting this season if that's what the coaches decide?

"The coaches are doing what they feel is best for me right now, so I pretty much have no choice," Winston said. "If they redshirt me, I guess they're doing what's best for me."

Darius Winston

Size: 6-foot, 180 pounds

Class: Freshman

Hometown: West Helena

Notable: Winston was the star of Arkansas' 2009 recruiting class. Scout.com ranked him as the nation's fourth-best cornerback prospect, and he was regarded as the state's top recruit. Winston received more than 30 scholarship offers, but he passed on Florida, Georgia and Miami to sign with Arkansas. He was named a USA Today first-team All-American after recording 46 tackles and eight interceptions — including two returned for touchdowns — as a senior at Central High.

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