Johnson Key in Return Game

FAYETTEVILLE — Running back Dennis Johnson didn't like the idea of being a kick returner when he came to Arkansas in 2008. Instead, the Texarkana native wanted to concentrate on earning playing time in the backfield.

Johnson is glad he didn't turn down the opportunity now.

"I didn't think I'd be doing as well as I'm doing," he said.

The sophomore was named Southeastern Conference special teams player of the week Monday, picking up the award for the second time this season. He was recognized after averaging 48.3 yards on three returns in the Razorbacks' 44-23 win against Auburn. That included a 70-yarder on the final play of the third quarter, setting up a touchdown that helped the Hogs grab a 41-23 lead.

It was more proof that Johnson has blossomed into one of the SEC's best return men. He leads the league and is sixth in the nation in kickoff return yards (33.8 an attempt).

"He's a guy that really understands what we're doing scheme-wise and then he's fast enough and quick enough to make plays on his own," coach Bobby Petrino said.

The Razorbacks knew they had a talented return man last year, when Johnson averaged 22.1 yards and scored on a 96-yard touchdown in the 30-23 win against Tulsa. But Petrino said Johnson has made a big improvement this fall.

"Last year there was times where he cruised the first 15, 20 yards until he saw the hole," Petrino said. "This year, he's getting to his full speed in the first 15, 20 yards, which is opening up big lanes for him."

Johnson is ad-libbing pretty well at times, too.

For instance, he was supposed to go right on the 70-yard return on the final play of the third quarter. But 15 yards into the return, Johnson stopped and cut back to the left when he thought he noticed a better path. Eventually, he broke down the sideline and turned in a big gain.

"It never was supposed to go left," Johnson said. "I just saw an opening to the left, but then I saw three defenders so I turned around and all my blockers were right there.

"I found holes and we made it happen."



Smith, Wright Updates

Running back Michael Smith, who rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown against the Tigers, suffered a hamstring injury in the second half of last Saturday's win.

The senior's availability for Florida is unknown. Petrino said Smith, who leads the team in rushing with 50 carries for 325 yards, will be "day-to-day."

Receiver Jarius Wright is improving after leaving in the second quarter with a concussion. Petrino said Wright — Arkansas' second-leading receiver with 16 catches for 328 yards and 2 touchdowns — wasn't experiencing any headaches and was scheduled for some "exercise" Monday.

"How he reacts to the exercise will determine what the plan for the week is," Petrino said. "If he has no ill effects from exercising then he should be good to go for the week."



TV Time

The Southeastern Conference announced Monday its television schedule for Oct. 24.

The Arkansas-Ole Miss game in Oxford, Miss., has been slated for an 11:21 a.m. kickoff and will be broadcast on the SEC Network. It will be Arkansas' first appearance on the SEC Network, which was established as part of the league's new television contracts with ESPN and CBS.

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