'Ask Dean!'

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas players aren't nearly as elastic as Stretch Armstrong.

Their bodies can take only so much, and since they play in the physical Southeastern Conference, the UA trainers can affect the outcome of games by getting the overly-twisted Hogs back on the field.

Or by making the call to leave them off it.

It's a fine line and coaches have to make split-second decisions based on trust. Do they go with the players who are loaded with adrenaline and begging to play? Or do they have absolute trust in team trainers and doctors to make pregame and in-game calls?

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said he always will "ask Dean" before making any health decisions. Dean Weber is the director of athletic training and has been on the staff since 1973, longer than anybody associated with Hogs football other than Athletic Director Frank Broyles.

Nutt said Weber's word is gospel when it comes to keeping the Razorbacks healthy.

"(Weber) is so valuable to our program," Nutt said. "Especially when you take the last two weeks -where a bomb has gone off with injuries -you have got to have somebody with knowledge, somebody that has a passion for it."

Nutt has relied daily on Weber the past month as several key players found themselves in lines for ice bags or spots in the whirlpools between games.

This week, Nutt even limited practice time (an hour on Tuesday and Wednesday and none on Thursday) to let his players rehabilitate their ailing bodies before heading to South Carolina next Saturday for an 11:30 a.m. kickoff.

The injury list heading into this weekend included the regulars: Quarterback Matt Jones (groin, hamstring), fullback Peyton Hillis (lower back), tight end Jared Hicks (shoulder), linebacker Sam Olajubutu (knee), cornerback Michael Coe (thigh), defensive end Jeb Huckeba (hand) and running back Dedrick Poole (hamstring). In addition, almost one-third of the team has been hitting the training room before practices for treatment to heal and prevent injuries.

While all those hope to return soon, the Hogs lost right tackle Zac Tubbs and defensive end Derek Moore for the season due to broken ankles both suffered during a practice last month.

The list appears long, but Weber's seen worse.

"We've had some years that have really been, on the whole, far more devastating than this," Weber said. "We do have quite a bit going on, but they're injuries the kids can recover from and haven't been lost for the year. So in that aspect, we've been fortunate."

Doctor's Orders
Just last weekend, Weber helped make two key calls during Saturday's 20-14 home loss against then-No. 10 Georgia.

One was popular, the other wasn't.

Jones, who missed practice time the week prior, was a game-time decision on whether he'd start at quarterback.

"He really put the time in getting treatment," Weber said. "He got a lot better by the end of the week. But on Friday, I didn't think that he'd be able to do what he does so well."

In order to play, Jones had to pass a series of agility tests with little or no pain and with trainers watching every step. Jones, a senior, had to give his OK, too, and said he was about "90 percent" healthy at kickoff.

"If he didn't look like he was going to be able to do what he does, then we'd go another direction," Weber said. "The plan was for him to give it a try, and if it looked like we were doing well, to go on as long as we could."

As the nip-and-tuck game wore on, Jones began to wear down and tried to stay loose by stretching and riding a stationary bike between series.

"We're moving the ball and we're ahead, so as (former Texas coach) Darrell Royal used to say, 'Let's dance with the guy who brought us,'" Weber said. "But it finally got to the point where it was obvious he couldn't do what he does so well."

Trying to favor an injured groin muscle, Jones tweaked his hamstring midway through the fourth quarter, prompting the call to pull him out.

The other -- and least popular -- decision was made just before halftime and involved Olajubutu, a starting middle linebacker and Georgia native.

Olajubutu wanted to keep playing on a sprained knee, but Weber wouldn't allow it.

"It wasn't that bad, but it was bad enough that he shouldn't play," Weber said. "If you continue to try to play, the risk of making it a really bad injury is very pronounced.

"And you never want to do that."

That didn't sink in with Olajubutu.

"Even if I got injured more, at that time, I didn't care," Olajubutu said. "I still wanted to go back in."

As always, Weber stayed firm and finally convinced Olajubutu that to sit out would be in his and the team's best interests.

"I thought I was going to go back in, but when Dean says 'no,' he means 'no,'" Olajubutu said. "He said I would probably end up tearing it or getting more injured if I went back in.

"If I sat out, there was a good chance I could be ready for the next game and it looks like I will be, so he made the right call as usual."

Tools Of The Trade
Hicks could give a guided tour of the training room. Since the first game, the starting tight end has had regular treatments -- as much as four 30-minute sessions a day -- for a tough-to-heal shoulder separation.

"You can't really heal from a shoulder injury during the season," Hicks said. "I mean, it's football. You lead with your shoulder pads to block, and you can't really prevent anything from happening.

"You just kind of go out there, hope it doesn't happen, and try to get better from week to week."

As with a large majority of the injuries, the training staff is using a combination of ice, moist heat in the whirlpool, electric stimulation and ultra sound to help get Hicks healthy enough to play each Saturday.

Players often call the treatment "getting the bad blood out," and for good reason.

"All these things are to increase blood flow because blood flow is what heals," Weber said. "We use all of the tricks there are to do that and we're basically trying to fool Mother Nature a bit."

When additional treatment is needed, Weber calls on Arkansas' team physicians. They're the ones who prescribe pain killers such as Bextra and Celebrex.

Hogs trainers most often use ibuprofen -- an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory -- to aid in recovery.

Weber credits his young staff with coming up with innovative ideas for treatment and it's all meant to speed up the healing process, making exact estimates on recovery time difficult.

During games, the training staff has a war chest of sorts that is basically a scaled down version of everything the training room has to offer, minus the whirlpool.

"On the average, we have between 55-60 play in a game," Weber said. "And they do get hurt, so we have to be ready for anything."

The Gospel
Getting players, mostly teenagers, to show up for anything on time is quite an accomplishment, but Weber said most adhere to the multiple treatment sessions each day like professionals.

"I've been doing whatever they need me to do to get ready," said Olajubutu, who plans to return to practice Sunday. "It's time consuming, but it's not really anything hard. And it's definitely worth it."

Players know that to get back on the field, they must follow exactly what Weber and his staff prescribes.

"If you can stay consistent with the treatment, you'll be back faster than you're supposed to be," said Poole, who hopes to return from his hamstring injury in time to play at South Carolina. "When you want to be back out there on the field, you'll do just about anything. Even if it's five o'clock or 5:30 in the morning and they tell you to be there, you'll be there.

"Whatever they'll tell you, you'll do it."

Coe, a starter until multiple deep thigh bruises limited the range of motion in his right leg two weeks ago, stayed in Fayetteville this weekend to get extra treatment while most of his teammates headed home.

"I'm going to treatment three or four times a day and I'm getting better and better," Coe said. "I just can't wait to get back on the field. I really miss just being out there with my teammates and the little things, like putting on my helmet.

"I haven't done that in a while."

And, with the help of Weber and his training staff, Coe believes he'll be able to put that helmet back on at South Carolina.

"The trainers have one thing: 'Get the player back on the field,'" Nutt said. "Not baby them, not tell them what they want to hear. Get them well and get them back on the field.

"And we've got the best people in the country getting our guys healthy."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories