FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas running back Knile Davis is happy teammate Kiero Small will be getting opportunities for playing time at linebacker this preseason.
Davis wanted to make something very clear after Arkansas’ first practice, though.
Small is still valuable in his other role, paving the way for Arkansas’ running backs.
“I’ve told him he can go over there,” Davis said Thursday. “But he knows where his home is. At fullback.”
The Baltimore native, who made a name for himself as a facemask-bending lead blocker last season, will continue to open holes for Arkansas running backs as a senior in 2012. But with the likelihood he may only be on the field 20 percent of the time at fullback in the offensive gameplan, the Razorbacks want to see if he can help them add some depth at linebacker as well.
It’s a unique opportunity. A handful of Razorbacks — like quarterback Brandon Mitchell and running back Ronnie Wingo — are getting chances to expand their roles in different positions in preseason camp. Small is the only one attempting to play two ways, which is something he relishes.
“I’m a throwback anyway playing fullback, because most colleges don’t really use a fullback that much anymore,” Small said when asked about playing both ways. “So I guess you can call me a double-throwback.”
The idea was introduced in the spring, when Small got spot duty at linebacker during workouts under new coordinator Paul Haynes. While Small didn’t spend much time at the position during Arkansas’ first two days of preseason practice, Haynes said the opportunity is coming this month.
“He’s too good a football player to have on the sideline,” Haynes said last week. “So when (offensive coordinator) Paul (Petrino) and those guys are not using him, he’ll be over there with us. We’ve just got to figure out what’s the best way to put him in there, the smartest way to put him in there and get him in there and do it.”
Small trimmed down from 258 pounds to 250 in the offseason to help prepare for the dual role. He also spent plenty of time in the defensive playbook, learning the requirements of his new position.
It’s not the first time he has played linebacker. He was a two-way player at Hartnell (Calif.) Community College and was recruited by some teams as a linebacker. He jumped at the chance to play fullback on Arkansas’ offense, but said he also is eager to help at linebacker this season.
“Me and Coach John L. talked about it one time before and he said he’d like to get me on the field a lot more,” Small said. “It’s not me starting or anything, it’s just a depth thing and I’m all for it. “I played linebacker two years before I got here, and I rarely played fullback.”
One thing is certain: Small won’t be shy about making contact. He proved it last season with his work at fullback, colliding with linebackers again and again.
Arkansas running backs coach Tim Horton said there’s no doubt Small has the instincts of a linebacker. Now the Hogs are eager to see if he’s a fit at the position.
“We threw him in at defense some in spring practice. He was really effective in what you’d call the box,” Horton said. “When you get him out in space, maybe not as good. But in the box, he’s a good linebacker.”
Small said he’s planning to prove he can help when called on this season. He enjoys his role at fullback, but wouldn’t mind adding linebacker to the resume in 2012.
“Everybody on the team likes to play football, and as a child I played both ways anyway,” Small said. “All my life I’ve been playing both ways. It’s really exciting to be able to do that on this big of a stage.”