Hogs Hitting Recruiting Trail

FAYETTEVILLE -- With no bowl practices the next three weeks, Arkansas coaches will hit the recruiting trail harder -- and earlier -- than ever during the month of December.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt called it "unfamiliar territory" since his coaches have spent the past six Decembers preparing for a bowl opponent instead of knocking on doors of prospects. They usually don't start doing that until January.

"This is the first time that we'll be much more involved with recruiting during this time," Nutt said. "We'll be out on the road, in fact, most of our guys have already left and have home visits (Sunday) afternoon, (Sunday night), (today) and all through the week.

"So we'll get on the road very, very hard."

The toughest task will be selling a sub .500 program for the first time under Nutt as the Razorbacks (5-6) came up a win short of a bowl bid after losing to LSU 43-14 on Friday.

Nutt, who's always optimistic, said selling the program may be even easier under these circumstances.

"The only reason we're in your living room a month earlier is because we need your help," Nutt said of his recruting pitch to prospects. "I think that's an easy sell and when they see how much young people actually played, I think they'll see there's some opportunity.

"We're not scared to play a true freshman and I think that's evident and it's been evident for a long time, but esecially now."

Out of the 26 newcomers on scholarship this fall, 11 played significant roles on either offense, defense or special teams this season.

Six of last February's signees earned starts in at least one game including fullback Peyton Hillis, receiver Marcus Monk, defensive end Marcus Harrison, free safety Randy Kelley and cornerbacks Darius Vinnett and Michael Grant.

Harrison and Vinnett started all 11 games and Monk started in the last six.

"You've got 74 guys on scholarship in the toughest league in America and that's real hard," Nutt said. "After this signing date (Feb. 2), we're going to get back to where we're able to sign 25 again and that's going to be a big help."

The extra time spent on recruiting could help the Hogs land a couple of junior college prospects they've been targeting. Junior college players often are brought in as a "quick fix" for problem areas and Nutt said the coaches are looking for safeties, rush ends and linebackers.

"Anytime you get a difference maker at one of those three spots, you'll take them," Nutt said. "Usually the ones that are very, very good at the junior college level are all being recruited by everyone and that's where we have to do a great job of it.

"And now with less time here preparing for a bowl game, we'll probably have a much better chance in one of those areas, with one of those type of junior college guys because now we can get out and be a little bit more visible."

Nutt said he did not see a need to try to sign a junior college quarterback or bring in a punter or place kicker on scholarship at this time. The Hogs can sign as many as 23 prospects in this class.

Quarterback Controversy?

The 2004 season ended just three days ago, but a quarterback controversy already is heating up as folks try to figure out who'll replace senior Matt Jones in 2005.

The Hogs have two healthy quarterbacks on campus now in redshirt freshman Robert Johnson and true freshman Alex Mortensen. There also is redshirt freshman Landon Leach, who had his second shoulder surgery earlier this fall and is expected to be throwing by the start of spring practice.

Cole Barthel, who signed with the Razorbacks in 2001 and has been playing third base in the Atlanta Braves organization, has committed to enroll at Arkansas in January and is expected to join the team this spring. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder won't cost the Hogs a scholarship since part of his contract with the Braves included college tuition.

"You have a young man that's coming in for free, that doesn't cost you a scholarship that we recruited four years ago," Nutt said. "The only thing I still have is his high school film and he looked good in high school four years ago, but I don't know what we have at all right there."

Nutt described what he saw on Barthel's high school highlights.

"He was a competitor and a winner," Nutt said. "He had quick feet and had (former UA quarterback Clint) Stoerner-like competitiveness and was very accurate with the ball."

Johnson has the most experience after playing in six games this season. He completed 10 of 19 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing 10 times for 37 yards. His quarterback efficiency rating of 186.61 is higher than any quarterback in the Southeastern Conference this season, although Johnson's numbers mostly came in mop up roles late in games.

Nutt said the Johnson's experience puts him ahead of the others.

"What's good is you're going to have Robert Johnson who got a lot of practice time in this fall," Nutt said. "I think that gives him a lot of confidence."

Nutt hinted that the Hogs may use two quarterbacks in each game and said to expect less option play than in the post-Jones era.

"They look like a little bit more play-action, drop-back kind of guys," Nutt said. "Robert has a little bit more athleticism and can probably do a little bit more option, but we'll just see what their strong points are, what their weak points are.

"That's what spring is for."

Stronger Support

Whoever ends up as the starting quarterback, he'll have a much more experienced supporting cast than when Jones took the field as the lone returning offensive starter this season.

The Hogs' offensive line only loses one starter, Gene Perry, and the receiving corps will need to replace only Steven Harris, who had a team-high 617 yards and 4 touchdowns on 37 catches.

"I think it will really help (the quarterbacks)," Nutt said. "First of all, starting with the offensive line. They've been through the SEC, the different fronts and looks and blitzes and they have that one more year of quality experience.

"Then you add (redshirts) Cedric Logan and Anthony Brown (at receiver) along with Monk. And Chris Baker should be much better and Cedric Washington. It ought to be good."

Monk had a team-high six receiving touchdowns with 569 yards on 37 receptions. Washington was third with 17 receptions for 284 yards and a touchdown while Baker had 9 catches for 213 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Young Up Front

Three true freshmen saw significant action on the defensive line this season. Harrison started every game while Jamaal Anderson and Fred Bledsoe both saw action off the bench.

Nutt said he believes the defensive line should be a strength next season.

"It should be (a strength) with Marcus Harrison and Jamaal Anderson is going to get bigger and stronger," Nutt said. "Keith Jackson, Jeremy Harrell and Fred Bledsoe and then you've got redshirt freshman Ernest Mitchell and Michael Tate.

"These guys will only get better."

Harrison had 31 tackles while Anderson had 18 and Bledsoe 10. Those three combined for seven tackles for losses.

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