Injuries force Nutt to borrow players for the backfield

Updated: October 23, 2003, 2:34 AM ET

LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas coach Houston Nutt's once crowded backfield is almost empty.

The Razorbacks had four tailbacks leave the loss to Florida last week with injuries. Fullback Mark Pierce finished the game at tailback, even though he was one of those injured.

Linebacker Brandon Holmes and receiver DeCori Birmingham, members of the packed backfield in years past, were forced to return because Cedric Cobbs (hamstring) and De'Arrius Howard (ankle) are questionable for the Ole Miss game Saturday at Oxford, Miss.

"You don't like to see injuries," Nutt said. "That's what makes it hard when guys are not full speed in this league. You don't know if Cedric is ready. You have to wait and see. You don't know how full-speed De'Arrius is, so you have to wait and see."

Holmes (6-2, 227) has 700 career rushing yards for Arkansas, but he moved to defense last year to shore up a depleted defensive line. Playing linebacker this year, Holmes has five tackles.

His best game at running back came in a 14-3 win over LSU in 2000, when he carried 42 times in the rain without fumbling for 143 yards and a touchdown. After practice Tuesday, Nutt said the senior has retained most of his offensive knowledge.

"It made sense for us to bring a guy back who had been there before," Nutt said. "He did very well. We'll just have to wait to see how De'Arrius and Cedric are doing. They're still trying to get there by Saturday.

Holmes "is more of an emergency, but you just never know," he added.

Birmingham (5-11, 200) came to Arkansas (4-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) as a running back from Atlanta, Texas, where he rushed for 2,000 yards as a high school junior and 1,000 yards in just five games as a senior.

Now a junior, Birmingham switched to receiver full-time last year, finishing third on the team in receptions with 17 for 183 yards and three touchdowns. His biggest catch was on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Matt Jones to beat LSU and advance to the SEC championship game.

If Cobbs and Howard can't play or don't see much time, quarterback Matt Jones said the offense should be the same.

"DeCori Birmingham took some reps (in practice) and so did Brandon Holmes and both of them are tremendous athletes," said Jones, who is Arkansas' second-leading rusher with 312 yards. "They both run the ball real well."

Cobbs never suited up for the second half against Florida after straining his right hamstring in the first half. The senior gained 88 yards on 14 carries, moving into fifth place on Arkansas' career rushing list with 2,436 yards.

He still leads the SEC at 121.3 yards per game and his overall total of 728 yards trails only Alabama's Shaud Williams, who has 885 yards. Cobbs' rushing total marks his best output at Arkansas.

Nutt said that Cobbs didn't appear to be upset after the game, but he didn't work out on Tuesday. He rode a stationary bike during practice.

"He didn't think it was going to be that bad," Nutt said. "He was pretty upbeat about it."

This is the fourth straight season Cobbs has been injured. He separated his shoulder in 2000, pulled a hamstring in 2001 and suffered a turf toe injury in 2002.

Howard sprained his left ankle and returned after having it taped, but someone kicked him and he didn't play again.

Third-string back Kyle Dickerson, who has two carries for 5 yards this year, strained his right shoulder and left the game. Pierce, who had 32 yards on nine carries, dislocated his shoulder, popped it back in place and re-entered the game.

Both Pierce and Dickerson should be able to play on Saturday.

Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe expects to see a strong running game no matter who plays on Saturday.

"I expect if (Cobbs and Howard) are capable ... of being there, they will be there," Cutcliffe said. "You just still know you're going to see a great run game and it's no secret that they can throw it."

Arkansas lost the past two games, but Jones had his best back-to-back yardage totals of his career. He passed for 168 against Auburn, his fourth-highest total, and he was 20 of 30 for a career-high 299 yards and three touchdowns in the Florida loss.

If senior free safety Tony Bua's roughing-the-passer penalty hadn't wiped out an interception against Florida, Jones would have had a chance to add to those totals.

Without a healthy, experienced running back, Nutt said Jones would be ready to throw more if needed.

"We're not afraid to do that, but you know I love to run the football and we still believe in that," Nutt said. "But we're not afraid to throw it up."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index