FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas coach John L. Smith said Saturday there is a plan in place for when running back Knile Davis will take part in the full-contact portion of fall practices.
Smith also said he’s not quite ready for the rest of the world — or Davis, for that matter — to know that plan.
“He’s not aware of it yet,” Smith said following the Razorbacks’ first scrimmage of fall camp in Razorback Stadium. “He’ll tell if I share it with him. He’s a tattletale.”
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Davis, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury, has taken part in each of Arkansas’ practices this month and has faced the usual bumps that come with wearing pads. However, just as during the spring, Davis has yet to take part in a full-contact scrimmage — though he’s completely recovered and coaches have said he’ll do so prior to the season opener against Jacksonville State on Sept. 1.
The junior, who lead all Southeastern Conference running backs with 1,322 yards rushing two seasons ago, went through warm-ups Saturday morning. Once the scrimmage portion of practice began, Davis stood off to the side — holding his helmet in his hand and encouraging teammates at every opportunity.
Davis wasn’t made available to talk following the scrimmage, but he’s insisted throughout the spring and summer that he’s comfortable with whenever his coaches decide to let him face full contact. He broke his left ankle last August when a teammate rolled up on him during a preseason scrimmage, and Razorbacks offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said earlier this week that his timetable for facing contact has been an “ongoing conversation” between coaches.
Smith said Saturday he would share the plan for Davis “when the time comes.” In the meantime, his teammates are excited at just the thought of his return to full action.
“Whenever he has full contact, it’s going to be trouble for the defense,” senior receiver Cobi Hamilton said. “I’m very anxious. I think me and the whole world is ready to see what he’s going to do, including the rest of this offense. With him getting back in this offense, it’s going to be a real fun year.”
Without Davis, the usually high-powered Arkansas offense — which led the SEC in total offense and scoring last season — sputtered at times during Saturday’s scrimmage. The performance included five straight possessions without an offensive score at one point and appeared to be another sign of change under the leadership of Smith and first-year defensive coordinator Paul Haynes.
The Razorbacks were last in the SEC in total defense in former coach Bobby Petrino’s first two seasons before improving to fifth in 2010 when they went 10-3 and reached the Sugar Bowl. Last season, Arkansas fell back to ninth in the SEC and parted ways with former defensive coordinator Willy Robinson after the regular season.
Haynes was hired before a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State, during which the Razorbacks held the Wildcats to 260 yards total offense, and his defense continued to show improvement on Saturday. First-team All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson was intercepted twice, including one that would have been returned for a touchdown by freshman linebacker Otha Peters, and the swarming secondary forced several drops by Arkansas’ usually sure-handed receivers.
“Everybody in the stands, all the fans, are looking for the offense to come out and just beat on the defense,” sophomore defensive end Trey Flowers said. “That happens every year, but we had a little chip on our shoulder that we had to come out there and make a statement.
“I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a good thing, it’s a good feeling because this is a high-powered offense at Arkansas and for us to come out here and semi-dominate them or have some good looks against them, it feels pretty good.”
Smith wasn’t pleased with the drops or overall performance of the offense, but that concern was balanced out by the defensive performance. The Razorbacks finished ranked No. 5 last season, with their only two losses coming to national champion Alabama and runner-up LSU. Smith is counting on defensive improvement to close the gap with the SEC’s elite.
“It’s really different,” Smith said. “I think the kids feel good about themselves. I’m not worried about the offense. The offense is going to bounce back. They’re going to be good. I think it was a good spark and will help their confidence, which we need. Because, like I told them, `We need to be good defensively for us to be a great football team.’ That has been the big concern is that we’ve got to develop defensively, so I liked it.”