FAYETTEVILLE — Knile Davis looked down at the turf inside the Arkansas indoor practice facility, preparing for a series of pre-workout stretches and agility exercises.
No coaches huddled over the former Razorbacks running back. No trainers monitored his every move.
The decision to follow the rigorous routine was all his, one he followed down to the smallest detailed movement as he prepared for a series of receiving drills with his former teammates, including quarterback Tyler Wilson.
Perhaps more than any of the workout participants, Davis is a wild card entering Friday’s on-campus pro day and next month’s NFL draft. The problem for the Texas native, though, is there’s no possible way for him to provide an answer to the one question everyone has.
Can he stay healthy?
"You can’t prove that you’re not going to get hurt," Davis said. "That’s why I don’t understand the injury-prone tag. You can’t say someone’s injury prone, because anyone on the field can get hurt. You can have a hot No. 1 pick, and he can get hurt, too. And then someone who’s been hurt can never get hurt again. There’s no way to prove it."
There’s no way to fully shake the label, as the former first-team All-Southeastern Conference running back knows all too well — given his own laundry list of injuries dating to high school. All Davis can do is prepare for auditions such as Friday, when he’s expected to run routes and catch passes from Wilson, and hope for a chance.
Davis’ chances at being selected in the draft were already given a boost following his performance at last month’s combine. He ran the second-best 40-yard dash among running backs with a time of 4.37 seconds and bench pressed 225 pounds 31 times — second only to Wake Forest fullback Tommy Bohanon.
The effort came after Davis spent eight weeks training at the Michael Johnson Performance Center in his home state. Lance Walker, the company’s director of performance, said Davis also trained with former Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg, safety Ross Rasner and running back Dennis Johnson, and that he wowed NFL teams during the combine.
"I sat in the stands after his workout, and I had four different representatives from teams tell me, ‘He’s completely re-racked himself in terms of his status with us now,’" Walker said. "He was a complete enigma coming in, and now with his performance at the combine, he’s completely turned the tables. Everybody’s taking more looks at him now."
Performing in workouts has never been a problem for Davis, who approached the 600-pound mark while squatting last summer at Arkansas. Neither was his on-the-field production during the 2010 season as a sophomore, when he burst onto the national scene by leading SEC running backs with 1,322 yards rushing — including averaging 147 yards per game over his final seven games.
What has been a problem for the 5-foot-10, 227-pound Davis is staying on the field. His laundry list of ailments, dating back to his junior year of high school, includes three broken ankle and two broken collarbones.
The most recent occurrence was his last ankle break, this one to his left ankle during a scrimmage prior to the 2011 season. The injury cost him all of the 2011 season, as well as forcing him to miss spring practice leading into the 2012 season, and led to a series of medical evaluations at the combine — resulting in what Davis said were "no red flags."
While Davis worked his way back, the Arkansas football program fell into turmoil last year following revelations of former coach Bobby Petrino’s affair with a former volleyball player. John L. Smith took over on an interim basis last April, but the disruption in leadership was too much to overcome for the Razorbacks, who quickly fell from the preseason top 10 and finished a dismal 4-8 — resulting in Bret Bielema’s hiring away from Wisconsin in December.
"The plays are the same, but the organization isn’t there," Davis said. "When you had Bobby, there was comfort there. Kind of like now that coach (Bielema) is here now. There’s order. There was no order when Bobby left."
The lack of order also led to questions about how Davis’ return would be handled leading into last season. Petrino had said before his firing that Davis would be expected to go through contact like any other player when he returned from injury, but Smith and the rest of the assistant coaches decided to hold the running back out of contact for much of last August.
Davis finally carried the ball during the final preseason scrimmage. While he did come way injury free, he fumbled on the first play — setting the stage for a disappointing season overall in which he rushed for only 337 yards on 112 carries.
Looking back, Davis — who was quick to point out that he hadn’t played since the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State to end the 2010 season — said preseason contact would have helped him return to form more quickly in 2012.
That said, he isn’t about to blame anyone or make excuses for his lack of production last season. He’s only focused on the here and now and proving to everyone — including himself — that he’s still among the best at his position.
"I’m a realist; people have short memories," Davis said. "The media, coaches, it’s ‘What have you done for me lately?’ So, yeah, I definitely have something to prove. I have something to prove to myself that I can play at the next level."