Arkansas RB Davis out to prove health, talent

Knile Davis looked down at the turf inside the Arkansas indoor

practice facility, preparing for a series of pre-workout stretches

and agility exercises.

No coaches huddled over the former Razorbacks running back. No

trainers monitored his every move.

The decision to follow the rigorous routine was all his, one he

followed down to the smallest detailed movement as he prepared for

a series of receiving drills with his former teammates, including

quarterback Tyler Wilson.

Perhaps more than any of the workout participants, Davis is a

wild card entering Friday’s on-campus pro day and next month’s NFL

draft. The problem for the Texas native, though, is there’s no way

he can answer the one question everyone has.

Can he stay healthy?

”You can’t prove that you’re not going to get hurt,” Davis

said. ”That’s why I don’t understand the injury-prone tag. You

can’t say someone’s injury prone, because anyone on the field can

get hurt. You can have a hot No. 1 pick, and he can get hurt, too.

And then someone who’s been hurt can never get hurt again. There’s

no way to prove it.”

There’s no way to fully shake the label, as the former

first-team All-Southeastern Conference running back knows all too

well – given an injury history that dates to high school. All Davis

can do is prepare for auditions such as Friday, when he’s expected

to run routes and catch passes from Wilson, and hope for a

chance.

Davis’ chances at being selected in the draft were already given

a boost following his performance at last month’s combine. He ran

the second-best 40-yard dash among running backs with a time of

4.37 seconds and bench pressed 225 pounds 31 times – second only to

Wake Forest fullback Tommy Bohanon.

The effort came after Davis spent eight weeks training at the

Michael Johnson Performance Center in his home state. Lance Walker,

the company’s director of performance, said Davis also trained with

former Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg, safety Ross Rasner and

running back Dennis Johnson, and that he wowed NFL teams during the

combine.

”I sat in the stands after his workout, and I had four

different representatives from teams tell me, `He’s completely

re-racked himself in terms of his status with us now,”’ Walker

said. ”He was a complete enigma coming in, and now with his

performance at the combine, he’s completely turned the tables.

Everybody’s taking more looks at him now.”

Performing in workouts has never been a problem for Davis, who

approached the 600-pound mark while squatting last summer at

Arkansas. Neither was his on-the-field production during the 2010

season as a sophomore, when he burst onto the national scene by

leading SEC running backs with 1,322 yards rushing – including

averaging 147 yards per game over his final seven games.

What has been a problem for the 5-foot-10, 227-pound Davis is

staying on the field. His laundry list of ailments, dating to his

junior year of high school, includes three broken ankles and two

broken collarbones.

The most recent occurrence was his most last broken ankle, his

left one, during a scrimmage before the 2011 season. The injury

cost him all of the 2011 season, as well as forcing him to miss

spring practice leading into the 2012 season, and led to a series

of medical evaluations at the combine – resulting in what Davis

said were ”no red flags.”

While Davis worked his way back, the Arkansas football program

fell into turmoil last year following revelations of former coach

Bobby Petrino’s affair with a former volleyball player. John L.

Smith took over on an interim basis last April, but the disruption

in leadership was too much to overcome for the Razorbacks, who

quickly fell from the preseason top 10 and finished a dismal 4-8 –

resulting in Bret Bielema’s hiring away from Wisconsin in

December.

”The plays are the same, but the organization isn’t there,”

Davis said. ”When you had Bobby, there was comfort there. Kind of

like now that coach (Bielema) is here now. There’s order. There was

no order when Bobby left.”

The lack of order also led to questions about how Davis’ return

would be handled leading into last season. Petrino had said before

his firing that Davis would be expected to go through contact like

any other player when he returned from injury, but Smith and the

rest of the assistant coaches decided to hold the running back out

of contact for much of last August.

Davis finally carried the ball during the final preseason

scrimmage. While did come way injury free, he fumbled on the first

play – setting the stage for a disappointing season overall in

which he rushed for only 337 yards on 112 carries.

Looking back, Davis – who was quick to point out that he hadn’t

played since the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State to end the 2010

season – said preseason contact would have helped him return to

form more quickly in 2012.

That said, he isn’t about to blame anyone or make excuses for

his lack of production last season. He’s only focused on the here

and now and proving to everyone – including himself – that he’s

still among the best at his position.

”I’m a realist; people have short memories,” Davis said. ”The

media, coaches, it’s `What have you done for me lately?’ So, yeah,

I definitely have something to prove. I have something to prove to

myself that I can play at the next level.”