As it turns out, Arkansas senior running back Dennis Johnson didn’t just have a talk with the Razorbacks’ coaches earlier in the season that has helped spark improved play.
Dennis Johnson leads the Razorbacks with five rushing touchdowns, four of which have come in the past two games.
His mother, wanting to keep things going in the right direction, was involved in the discussions as well, according to offensive coordinator Paul Petrino.
And it was mission accomplished, Petrino basically said Tuesday.
Coach John L. Smith said Monday that Johnson “seems to be growing and blossoming” and is “being much more of a leader.” Smith attributed that to a talk Johnson had with the coaches.
Petrino elaborated on that, saying Johnson’s mother, Rosalind Reems, was involved in discussions, and that Johnson was fortunate to have such a great mom. Reems came to the Broyles Center on Sept. 21, the day before the Rutgers game, according to Petrino.
“She met with us. We met together and just kind of came to a conclusion how things could be best for all of us,” Petrino said. “So it was her caring enough about him. Came in and met with Coach Smith, met with Coach (Tim) Horton, met with myself. And then we met with Dennis. And it’s been a good turnaround since.”
Johnson has seen his role recently expand in Arkansas’ offense. He’s had four rushing touchdowns and a TD catch in the past two games, both victories.
In the most recent game, the 49-7 win over Kentucky on Oct. 13, he had 12 carries for a team-high 82 yards and two touchdowns and caught a TD pass. In the win over Auburn a week earlier, he had team-highs in carries (17) and rushing yards (76), ran for two TDs and had four receptions for 15 yards.
Petrino said Johnson’s reaction on the field to the meeting with the coaches has been “great.”
“She obviously made a big difference and it’s been just a great change for him and all of us," he said. "So hopefully it just stays that way.
“He’s had a great attitude. He’s worked hard. And I think she just came to town to help him out, get him going. She was coming anyway. It’s not like she came in the middle of the week. She came on Friday for the game.”
Johnson hasn’t started this season, and Petrino said the plan for Saturday’s game against Rutgers was the same as always – split the carries among the backs early, and keep feeding it to whoever’s hot.
“He’s been playing really well. He’s been running hard,” Petrino said of Johnson. “He’s helped the passing game, too. He’s made a lot of key plays in the passing game the last couple of weeks. He’s done a good job, so we’ve just got to keep that rolling.”
Gragg looking great
Senior tight end Chris Gragg has been cleared and has no limitations on him in practice after suffering a leg and knee bruise vs. Rutgers.
Gragg hasn’t played in a game since that first-half injury, but it sounds like he should be good to go Saturday when the Razorbacks play Ole Miss in Little Rock.
Petrino said it was really good to have Gragg, one of the Hogs’ top receiving targets, available for duty.
“Any time you can have one of your best players back, that makes a defense worry about him, makes them … stretches the field,” Petrino said. “There’s a big difference in a tight end that can run like he can compared to one that can’t.”
Gragg said he was “glad to be back out there ready to go get a win against Ole Miss.”
He’s been dealing with some soreness in his leg and knee, but “once I’m out there playing I don’t think about it. I don’t feel it.”
“Coaches said I’ve been looking pretty fast on film, so I’m ready to go,” he said.
Gragg has yet to watch video of the play on which he was injured.
“They wouldn’t let me watch it, and I really didn’t want to watch it,” he said.
In another injury update, Petrino said senior running back Ronnie Wingo (shoulder) is not quite back to 100 percent.
Wingo is expected to be available Saturday, however.
Petrino called Tuesday’s practice one of the best the Hogs have had this year and said the pads were popping as well as he can remember this season.
“Come off the field feeling good. We just got to keep it up,” he said. “Have two more just like it. You feel like guys are starting to really understand what we’re doing and clicking, so we’ve just got to continue to do that for two more days.”