This is thesecond installment in a four-part series previewing Arkansas’ spring football practice. In today’s installment, Hogwired.com takes atakes a look atthe Razorbacks’ offensive skillpositions including wide receivers, quarterbacks and running backs.
WIDE RECEIVERS: For a majority of the 2005 season, Arkansas’ wide receivers waited patiently while the Razorbacks’ found their stride in the passing game. The talented group made key plays where they could and cleared the secondary with blocks for Arkansas’ stable of running backs.
Down the stretch, however, the Hogs’ passing game picked up the pace thanks in large part to the play of quarterback Casey Dick. With the sophomore quarterback back under center and the addition of some new offensive schemes, Arkansas’ wide receivers patience may be rewarded with some new found opportunities through the air.
Junior Marcus Monk has established himself as the centerpiece of the Razorbacks’ wide receiver picture. The Lepanto, Ark., product collected a school record 37 catches as a freshman, but was held to only 35 receptions as a sophomore last season. Monk was efficient in his catches averaging 13.6 yards per reception and garnering a team-leading seven touchdown catches. He exemplified the Hogs’ late-season passing game surge combining for 12 catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns in the final three games of the 2005 season. Monk will once again be a key component of the Razorbacks’ aerial attack as the starter at split end.
Junior Chris Baker is targeted to return to the gridiron after sitting out last season while battling injuries. Baker’s spring regimen will be somewhat limited while he continues to rehabilitate his left knee. The Razorbacks are hopeful that by the time fall camp rolls around, Baker will be back to his speedy self.
Another veteran tops the depth chart at flanker entering spring practice. Senior Cedric Washington played in 10 of 11 games for the Razorbacks last season earning a starting call in seven contests. He ranked third on the squad with 27 catches for 365 yards and one touchdown.
Washington will likely have to fend off a pair of young wide receivers to maintain his starting position. Freshman Rod Coleman made coaches think twice before ultimately keeping the redshirt on the first-year Razorback in 2005. He will be in the mix this spring and could provide the Hogs with another athletic option at flanker. Junior Cedric Logan will also make a bid for an expanded role. Logan played in all 11 games last season tallying six catches for 65 yards and one touchdown.
Sophomores Reggie Fish and John Aaron Rees will likely be utilized in specialty situations at flanker. In addition, Fish will be auditioned for punt return duties while Rees will maintain his role on a variety of special teams.
QUARTERBACKS: What a difference a year makes! Last spring, Arkansas entered practice without an established starting quarterback. Nutt will not face that dilemma this year thanks to the promising rookie campaign turned in by Casey Dick down the stretch in 2005. Dick was more than halfway through his redshirt season when the Razorbacks called upon the Allen, Texas, native to step into the starting quarterback role.
Dick became the first Razorback true freshman to take his first collegiate snap as the starter when he lined up against South Carolina in the seventh game of the season. The Hogs’ young signal caller showed remarkable composure in the final four games of the campaign leading Arkansas to a pair of wins and a near-upset of No. 3 LSU.
He was most impressive in leading the Razorbacks to a second-half comeback win at Ole Miss. After completing only five of his first 12 pass attempts, Dick completed his final 12 consecutive passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns. He was recognized as the SEC Freshman of the Week for his second-half heroics.
Dick completed 53-of-99 passes for 584 yards and seven touchdowns in 2005 while suffering only four interceptions in four games of action.
Junior Robert Johnson gives the Razorbacks a seasoned quarterback reserve at their disposal. Johnson started the first seven games of the season before giving way to his freshman understudy. The Waco, Texas, product was effective at times in 2005, but struggled to find consistency in the passing game. He passed for 876 yards and five touchdowns in his sophomore campaign.
Sophomore Alex Mortensen got his first taste of collegiate action as a reserve quarterback last season. Mortensen played in four games, including an extended stint against No. 1 USC. He completed six passes for 63 yards and a touchdown in his limited season opportunities. This spring, he will compete with Johnson for snaps as the Hogs’ No. 2 quarterback.
RUNNING BACKS: On paper, no other position group appears to be as loaded as the talented stable of Arkansas running backs. Led by 2005 SEC Freshman of the Year Darren McFadden, the Hogs have a wealth of All-SEC caliber running backs to line up in the offensive backfield. The Razorbacks have led the SEC in rushing in three of the past four seasons and appear primed to make a run at four out of five league rushing crowns.
McFadden exploded onto the national scene in 2005 with the most prolific freshman season by a Razorback in school history. The consensus freshman All-American and first-team All-SEC tailback rushed for UA freshman records of 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns. McFadden finished second in the nation among freshmen in rushing yardage on his way to five 100-yard rushing efforts.
The North Little Rock standout became only the seventh freshman in SEC history to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing barrier joining former league greats Emmitt Smith and Herschel Walker, among others. He also became the seventh Razorback to rush for 1,000 yards accomplishing the feat in the second-fewest number of rushing attempts. McFadden will once again be the feature back in the Razorbacks’ offense in 2006.
It’s not often that freshman first-team All-American is relegated to a second-team position in his sophomore season, but that is the situation for Felix Jones. Granted Jones earned his All-America accolade as a kickoff returner, but the former Tulsa World High School Player of the Year would have been the talk of his freshman class if not for his teammate, McFadden. In fact it was Jones who first assaulted the UA record book in 2005. Jones became the first Razorback freshman to earn more than 100 yards in his first collegiate game when he rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown on only eight carries against Missouri State. He finished the season with 626 yards and three touchdowns on 99 attempts and tied McFadden with an SEC-best 6.3 yards-per-carry average.
If not for a pre-season injury, another tailback in the class of 2005 may have made his mark in his rookie campaign. Michael Smith was competing with both McFadden and Jones for immediate playing time before a setback forced Smith to the sideline for a redshirt season. Smith is healthy again and will vie for playing time in an already crowded backfield.
The Hogs will also reap the rewards of the return of a talented and versatile fullback in Peyton Hillis. Hillis has exceptional receiving skills and led the Razorbacks in that category with 38 catches for 402 yards in 2005. He also was effective running the ball, especially in short-yardage situations. He took over the punt return duties early in the season and even returned three kickoffs. His 947 all-purpose yards ranked third on the squad last season trailing only McFadden and Jones.
Junior Farod Jackson and sophomore Kyle Payne will enter the spring as the top reserves at fullback. Jackson has been primarily utilized as a blocking back and as a regular on special teams in his first two seasons. Payne was also a special teams’ regular in 2005, but will miss a majority of spring practice after undergoing knee surgery in February.