Bret Bielema’s tenure at Arkansas will begin with former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who accepted an invitation to join the Razorback coaching staff on Tuesday. Bielema will not have running back Knile Davis, however, who announced his intention to enter the 2013 NFL Draft on Wednesday.
Davis’ stock may have taken a hit from a sluggish 2012. He returned from an ankle injury that sidelined him all of 2011, after rushing for 1322 yards and 13 touchdowns in the Razorbacks’ Sugar Bowl run in 2010. He averaged just 3.4 yards per carry this season, nearly half his output in 2010, and scored just three touchdowns in 10 games.
Still, Davis’ dip in production may have been a byproduct of the overall struggles Arkansas suffered with the spring replacement of Bobby Petrino as head coach. The Arkansas rush offense ranked No. 108 in the Bowl Subdivision under John L. Smith, a far cry from the No. 12 Wisconsin reached.
Davis has NFL size at 6-foot, 230 pounds, and he’ll get his opportunity to prove his professional value to scouts in individual workouts and the Combine. He’s the second SEC running back this week to declare for the draft with question marks, joining South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore.
Bielema has yet to hire an offensive coordinator. Matt Canada assumed play calling duties for the Badgers in 2012, replacing current Pitt head coach Paul Chryst. Bielema retained Arkansas running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Tim Horton, but Horton is reportedly a candidate for the Appalachian State opening.
The coordinator hire will determine the offensive identity of next season’s Razorbacks, though Bielema’s track record suggested Davis could have played an integral role. Every Wisconsin team in Bielema’s seven seasons there, save 2008, featured at least one 1000-yard back. On four occasions, Badger running backs exceeded 1500 yards (P.J. Hill 2006; John Clay 2009; Montee Ball 2011 and 2012).
Dennis Johnson emerged as the Razorbacks’ top rusher this season, accruing 757 yards and eight touchdowns. Johnson is a senior. Freshman running back Jonathan Williams is now the top, returning rusher. Williams averaged a little over five yards per carry on 45 attempts.