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Junior tailback Knile Davis is back practicing with the team after missing every game this season with a broken ankle he suffered during fall camp.
Davis was an All-SEC performer last season with 204 carries for 1,322 rushing yards (6.5 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns, most of which came after Week 8 when he got his first career 20-carry game against Ole Miss. Davis went for 176 and 3 touchdowns that day and would go over 100 yards in the final five games, as well.
"Right now, he's going through individual and a little bit of the team work but not a lot," UA running backs coach Tim Horton said. "We're giving those reps to the guys that are playing in the game, but it's really good to have him out there."
While Davis is practicing, that does not mean he will play this week or even this season, it just means he has taken another step closer to playing.
He is a junior with NFL ability, so even if he did play this season he would still have another season of eligibility, and most assume he would not come back for a fifth year regardless.
"I don't get to make those decisions, so I try to stay out of stuff I don't have anything to do with," Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said. "He's out there with us. He was in pads today. I hear he needs to stay off Twitter."
Running back goes back-to-back
Fellow tailback Dennis Johnson knows exactly how Davis feels right now. In the second game of the season last year, Johnson suffered a rare bowel injury that caused him to miss the rest of the year, and he was not really back to his old self until fall camp. And then he suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out of the first two games. Only since the last five or six games has he been considered the No. 1 back.
This season against Ole Miss Johnson had 15 carries for 160 yards. He got banged up against Vanderbilt and finished with 9 carries for 52 yards the next week. Against Florida in 2009, Johnson had 14 carries for 107 yards. The next week he had 4 for 15 against Ole Miss. He had 9 for 78 against LSU in 2009 but had no carries in the bowl game that followed. In the final game of 2008 against LSU, Johnson had 18 carries for 127 yards and 1 touchdown. In the first game the next season against Missouri State he had 3 carries for minus-4 yards.
"He's really played well the last couple of weeks," Horton said. "That's kind of been our challenge, and that's kind of been his story over his career, is we couldn't ever get multiple good games back-to-back-to-back-to-back. That's one of the things we've challenged him with."
Johnson had 15 carries for 86 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and 4 catches for 36 yards against South Carolina two weeks ago. Last weekend he performed well with 11 carries for 97 yards (8.8 ypc) and 2 touchdowns and 4 catches for 43 yards against Tennessee. So that is the first time Johnson has put together back-to-back really good games in his career.
"I did tell him what you guys told me, that he had not had two back-to-back big games. I did make a point to tell him that," McGee said. "And his face kind of frowned up, and it kind of got to him."
Adams is an artist
Coaches can't teach what wide receiver/punt returner Joe Adams has, a special blend of quickness and an ability to see the field for what it is and what it can become. Adams' 61-yard punt return for a touchdown against Tennessee last weekend was not only the top play in college football last weekend, many are calling it the greatest punt return they have ever witnessed.
"That's one for the ages. Your mouth drops open and you say 'my goodness, I can't believe what I just saw. The special teams coach for Tennessee was one of my assistants. He text me right after that and just said 'unbelievable,'" UA special teams coach John L. Smith said.
The entire special teams unit has been a strength this season in all but one game.
"It wasn't just me out there," Adams said. "The guys blocked it up, and I made a couple of guys miss and did a couple of spin moves and stuff like that. I guess a lot of people credited me, but it was other people out there making plays."
Okay, yes, there were other players out there blocking and playing a major role, but there wasn't another person in that stadium that could have made a run like Adams just made. There may not be another college player in the country that could have done that. At one point, Adams ran directly backwards 10 yards while breaking seven tackles on the return. That's not counting the guys he shook.
"With Joe, you always kind of think 'well, that's not a good thing,' but then you think with him 'maybe it is a good thing.' He's kind of one of those guys maybe we don't coach too much, we just kind of let him catch it and go," Smith said.
Adams grew up just down the road from War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, where he will play for the last time against Mississippi State at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
"It means a lot to me," Adams said. "A couple of other guys are from Little Rock, they're seniors. Some of the other guys that aren't from Little Rock are seniors. It's still a big game for us. It's another home game for us, and it is for the people in Little Rock that can't make it to the Fayetteville games."
Arkansas plays two games in Little Rock every year, but the NCAA only allows them to host recruits for one of them, and they already hosted recruits for the New Mexico game earlier in the season. The reason they do that is because recruits typically show up in bigger numbers for earlier games and many are also involved in the state playoffs this time of year, as well. Arkansas also is not allowed to bring recruits to the game in Arlington (Texas) even when they are the 'home team.'
"We always choose to do it the first game as opposed to this game. That's the rules, and we've got to abide by it, but we're just glad it's on TV and it's no national TV and gives our program a chance for it to be seen nation-wide," Horton said.
More on Knile Davis
From Tim Horton:
"It's wonderful. Just for his sake in terms of confidence. It was such a devastating thing when it happened, just to have him back on the field. He's close to being ready to play, now whether he will or not, that remains to be seen. Probably won't. But it's really nice to have him out there doing what he can right now."
"When we stretch every day, he's one of our team captains, and he's out there leading the stretch. I think everybody has such a great amount of respect for him, it's really been very, very positive to have him back out there."
From Garrick McGee:
"He battles back, he's tough, he doesn't get down. He's on our sidelines, he's in our meetings . He's really helped us a lot this year without carrying the football. He's a part of what we have going on right now. That's something we talked about when the injury happened. His role as a captain was going to change. That it wasn't going to be he could carry the ball 30 times for us and lead by example on the field. He was going to have to find a different way to lead and be a captain for our team, and I think he's done a fantastic job for us. He travels with us on the road. He's intense. They know how important it is to know, and they look up to him, so he's doing a good job for us."