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State of the Hogs:
Football practice is my time away from the troubles of the world. It's a time that I can get away from the office and find a grassy bank to sit alone. It's actually part of my job and I enjoy it.
I like to find a spot by myself, although I often find myself sitting with other reporters, fans or school officials. Practice is often boring because of all of those drills that only a coach can appreciate.
Well, that changed a few years ago when Chuck Barrett asked if he could call me for live updates for his radio talk show, SportsRap. There's a little anxiety there since I'm not a radio person and I had to learn a new medium. That put some excitement into practice for me. There's nothing like Chuck instructing on live radio, "Clay, set the scene for us." He sometimes reminds me, "Clay, the whole state of Arkansas is depending on your eyes."
I bet my blood pressure hits a higher level every time my cell phone rings during practice. Heck, I'm no coach and sometimes it's hard to explain to Chuck what I'm actually watching. You never know what he's going to ask. It's nice when I can actually act like I know what has happened that day. Sometimes I just have to fake it.
But it's been easier of late. We've had Matt Jones to talk about. We've been doing these practice updates for three years and that's exactly how long Matt's been playing quarterback for the Hogs.
Thank goodness for Matt. He's made practice and our time on the radio interesting, bless his heart.
However, I'd like to thank Matt for more than helping us out on the radio. He's made practice fun for these last three years. I've gone to the field knowing there was a good chance that I'd see Matt Jones make a play only those with extraordinary ability could make.
Maybe it would be Jones out running even the fastest of his teammates on a simple option play. Maybe it would be Jones running to his left, twisting those hips and then flinging a spiral 50 yards down the field to a receiver that I didn't think he could see, much less find with a pass. Maybe it would be Jones at wide receiver, reaching low to the ground across the front of a defensive back to snare a pass with one hand.
There's no one like Matt Jones. Maybe there's never been any one like him in a Razorback uniform. There might never be another one, ever.
Earlier this week, I was watching Jones do his thing in spring football practice, his first in full pads after two in shorts. I sat high in the west stands of Reynolds Razorback Stadium, watching an 11-on-11 drill that featured everything but live tackling. My cell phone rang and there was Chuck, ready for a live update. You never know exactly when he's going to call, but this day his timing was perfect and so was his first question.
"Is Matt Jones a leader?" asked Chuck. At that very instant, Jones darted from the shotgun with the ball on an option play to his left. He split the cornerback, end, linebacker and safety with a perfect cut and was alone in his sprint to the end zone. He had a green jersey and tackling wouldn't have been allowed, but there was no one close enough to touch him, much less tackle him.
"Yes, he's a leader and there he goes flying past everyone on this field, and everyone on this team knows that Matt Jones is THE MAN," I told Chuck. "It's been that way for about three years. His teammates know he is their leader and they know that on game day he's going to make plays just like that."
I can remember talking to Bill Montgomery, one of the great Razorback quarterbacks of the past. It was before the Hogs played Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Montgomery told me about the problems with Jones' release in his throwing motion. I remember hearing comments from former Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge, a television analyst, about what Jones lacks as far as sideline demeanor. Most recently, I read in this paper that Jones is stoic or curt with the media and that some members of the media are ignored altogether.
Oh, Matt Jones isn't perfect. Perhaps all of those people are right. But, heck, none of us are perfect. We all have flaws. We are human. I just wish more could enjoy Matt Jones for what he is before he's done with his Arkansas career. It's about over and most have spent the last three years trying to change him or his position.
From time to time, I've been told that Jones is better suited for tight end, wide receiver, free safety and even cornerback. That last one really baffled me. I will say that the fan was on Dickson Street and probably had consumed too many cold beverages.
If Matt has been curt to reporters (and he hasn't to me), maybe it's because he thinks some of them are stupid. (He could be right.) Heck, maybe Matt Jones is tired of reading about what he can't or doesn't do right. Maybe he's sick of hearing that he can't lead, can't pass and can't play unless it's overtime. I wouldn't blame him.
Arkansas coach Houston Nutt got it right earlier this week when he said that Jones is one of the most exciting playmakers in Arkansas history. He is to me.
Old timers speak of Clyde Scott and Lance Alworth. I wasn't alive yet when Clyde Scott made defenders look silly. I was in the second grade when Lance Alworth finished his eligibility. About the most I remember about Alworth is that he played tailback and not wide receiver, his position in pro football. Quinn Grovey is the only one from my lifetime that I'd compare to Jones. Grovey did some awesome things on a football field.
But what Grovey did more than anything was protect his image. He said all the right things all the time. He was an obvious leader and extremely vocal in doing it. He courted the media. Heck, he's even part of the media now, doing the sideline stuff for the UA football broadcasts.
That's a good trait to have if you play quarterback at Arkansas. He's got more eyes and ears trained on him than anyone except the state's governor and some might argue with me on that point.
Jones isn't going to change into a media darling, or become any different on the sideline. That's fine with me. It's fine with me if he doesn't enjoy the media spotlight, jump around on the sideline or suit the purists by playing quarterback in stereotypical fashion.
I'm going to enjoy the last few months Jones has with the Arkansas football program. I count myself fortunate to have seen him in practice each day. I know that he'll provide many thrills over the next few months.
And, of course, he'll give Chuck Barrett something to ask me about when he calls for the practice report for SportsRap. And for that, I'm most grateful.