Famous for his mighty hacks and a rather cavalier tongue, Reggie Jackson called himself "the straw that stirs the drink" in the late 1970s while playing for the New York Yankees. The observation reeked of hubris, and was inescapably true.
Knile Davis seems far more modest, but there is little disputing that he could make a similar pronouncement about his impact on the Razorbacks. Even as Arkansas excelled last season and finished off the program's first 11-win campaign in 34 years, its offense was bereft of the bellcow that Davis had become over the latter half of 2010, and strangely, it showed.
Bobby Petrino could never get truly comfortable with Dennis Johnson as a workhorse for a variety of reasons. Fumbling issues were the primary one, but Johnson's value as a receiver and returner were simply too great to compromise. While Johnson logged 670 team-leading rushing yards last year, he never carried the ball more than 15 times in any game, and only once broke the 100-yard barrier. Ronnie Wingo and Broderick Green gobbled up available carries, and neither of those backs demonstrated anything close to game-breaking ability.
For as staid and poised as Petrino always seemed, there was a case to be made that he didn't have quite the feel for running backs as he did for QBs. Davis' exceptional stretch during the latter half of 2010 was the only period during Petrino's four-year tenure where the meticulous coach seemed to feel at ease sticking the ball in one guy's gut at least 20 times per game. The best example was in the 31-23 win over LSU, where Davis rolled up 91 yards after halftime and basically salted the game away in the fourth quarter by eating up chunks of yardage against a demoralized Tiger front. When a running back goes for 152 yards but no single carry is longer than 14, you know you've got a guy who can simply erode a defense's confidence.
Of course, Davis is also a big-play threat: he had nine plays of 30 yards or greater in 2010, and almost never ceded ground. He can catch the ball out of the backfield (19 catches in 2010) and he is an exceptional goal-line runner (17 career scoring runs). So versatility is not a concern.
In theory, Davis' presence will simply enhance what Johnson, Wingo, Kody Walker, Nathan Holmes and Jonathan Williams bring. This is easily the Hogs' best stable of running backs since the McFadden-Hillis-Jones triumvirate left after 2007, and it is not simply token depth. Wingo has been maligned for never living up to his immense hype, but his receiving ability is beyond reproach and he does reasonably well in pass protection. Williams and Holmes could emerge as valuable insurance if anyone gets nicked up.
But make no mistake--this is Davis' show in 2012. He came back to campus with designs on proving that his late-season surge two years ago was no fluke. As Ryan Mallett did in 2010, Davis could enter the Alabama game with an eye toward making it his Heisman audition. Let's hope he shows the closing ability that escaped Mallett that sickening September evening.