Hogs freshmen handle duties at running back

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Arkansas freshman running backs Kody Walker (above) and Kelvin Fisher (below) are getting more work with the Razorbacks offense after the season-ending injury sustained by Knile Davis, last season’s leading rusher.
Photo by Ryan McGeeney
Arkansas freshman running backs Kody Walker (above) and Kelvin Fisher (below) are getting more work with the Razorbacks offense after the season-ending injury sustained by Knile Davis, last season’s leading rusher.

— Kody Walker was a fourth-team running back targeted for an almost-certain redshirt when fall camp opened for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee recaps the Razorbacks' preseason practice Tuesday.

Garrick McGee - Tuesday Post Practice

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Kelvin Fisher was a rookie cornerback with big promise.

But a chain of events thrust both of the freshmen — one a hammer-style big back and the other a sleek speedster — into the spotlight at tailback Tuesday. Walker, a 6-2, 235-pound bruiser, and the 5-11, 180-pound Fisher combined for all 22 running plays during a 32-snap live tackling period at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Walker ran 13 times for more than 90 yards and showed he’ll deliver a blow to defenders while also breaking off a couple of chain-moving carries. Fisher, moved to tailback four days ago, had a 15-yard carry on his first attempt and added a couple of impressive runs on his nine carries for about 40 yards to spice up the first live tackling since Thursday’s 137-play scrimmage.

“It was good to see those guys get out there and perform,” offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said of the freshman runners, who got the work during a period in which players with dummies manned the defensive tackle spots but the other nine defenders were tackling live.

“The pressure was on them so that we could have a good practice, they had to come through and run the ball. I thought they did a pretty good job running it. I want to see Kody finish runs more. He’s a big, powerful guy. I want to see him lower his shoulder and really punish the defensive backs.”

An odd sequence led to the extended playing time for the pair, beginning with starter Knile Davis’ season-ending ankle injury Thursday. Ronnie Wingo appeared to have some type of illness and left Tuesday’s morning practice after a few periods.

Dennis Johnson would have been next in line, but he was on the training table having his hamstring examined when the live tackling period began.

Walker ran the first four plays for moderate gains, then Fisher came in and ran for 15 yards around right end. Walker had a couple of memorable hits with safety Elton Ford and ran with a better pad level than he had earlier in camp.

“I was surprised when Wingo went out and everything, but I was ready to step up and do it,” Walker said. “They say I’m pretty far along. The help the older guys is giving me has helped me out tremendously.”

Coach Bobby Petrino, who said Walker picked up the offense swiftly, called his play in Thursday’s scrimmage impressive.

“He’s a real physical runner, broke a lot of tackles,” Petrino said. “He knows it and I know it that he needs to get his pads down a little bit and get a little more forward lean. Very, very powerful young man.”

Fisher graded out well Thursday at cornerback, which might be his eventual long-term spot, but he has quickly provided a spark at tailback.

“I like the kid because he really understands football,” said McGee, who was teammates with Fisher’s father at Arizona State.

“He’s really done well,” running backs coach Tim Horton said Saturday. “He’s picked things up very well in a short, short time. He’s got a lot of football sense and savvy.”

Fisher was hit for a 2-yard loss by Jeremiah Jackson and was slammed backward by safety Tramain Thomas on another play, but his upside was evident.

“It’s definitely a transition,” Fisher said of the move to running back. “I’m excited for the change, and learning from Ronnie and Dennis is a great help for me.”

Sports, Pages 21 on 08/17/2011

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