A Learning Process

Cole Barthel, Arkansas' 23-year-old true freshman quarterback, goes through his ninth Razorback spring practice on Friday as he and his teammates work without pads.

There was a thought that ran through the mind of former Atlanta Braves minor leaguer and current University of Arkansas freshman quarterback Cole Barthel on Monday when many Major League Baseball teams were experiencing opening day.

"I'm sitting there thinking what am I doing in class right now when I could be hitting a baseball instead," Barthel said. "But then I thought about it again and realized I am glad I made the decision I've made. I wouldn't change it for anything right now."

Barthel, who spent three years in the Braves organization, made the decision to give up on his diamond career and head back to the gridirion last summer when he got injured for the second straight year.

"I gave it a shot and got to live a dream, but there are some guys ahead of me in the organization, I had gotten hurt and I was just ready to give football a shot," Barthel said. "So I sit out last year, got healthy and started throwing and now here I am."

He is one of three quarterbacks - along with Robert Johnson and Alex Mortensen - vying to be the Razorbacks' successor to Matt   Jones and who got snaps with the first team during Friday's workout in shorts and helmets.

It was his ninth practice as a college quarterback, most of them long and in pads.

"It was a real short practice today, but we weren't real polished on offense," Barthel said. "I know I was a little bit sloppy. It was nice to have break, but then again you wish you could go live all the time when you have been away from it as long as I have."

Barthel was a good enough high school prospect at Decatur (Ala.) High to be signed by the Razorbacks in 2000, the same time Jones inked with Arkansas.

While Jones would go on to a great career and is now a potential first-round NFL draft choice, Barthel was busy fielding ground balls at third base and trying to hit a variety of pitches.

Now he's learning the UA playbook and just trying to get back into things as a 23-year old true freshman hoping to get some playing time next season.

"It's just getting use to the speed and size up here," Barthel said. "It waa a given that the size was going to be there, but I've been surprised by just how much faster the game is. Every team we play - especially in the SEC - is going to fast and doing what they kind to mess with a quarterback's mind. So it is up to me to learn how to handle all the blitzing and all the other things they will throw at me."

Barthel did win a few fans last Saturday during a scrimmage where he was 4-of-6 passing for 83 yards a touchdown, but he and coaches insist also read a few things wrong.

"My overall grading on myself was not very good," Barthel said. "I completed a couple of passes and I saw a few things, but missed some also. Watching the film the next day really helped me. It wasn't a horrible day, but I wouldn't say it was a great one for me either. I said just okay."

The 5:30 a.m. offseason workouts - dubbed Fourth Quarter - were also something new to Barthel, who enrolled in school in January and suddenly became someone getting up very early instead of sleeping in.

"Man, I was thinking about baseball a few mornings then, too," Barthel said. "The Fourth Quarter was something else. We did a lot of running and were on our feet in baseball a lot, but the Fourth Quarter was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I've done some things just about as hard, but not anything tougher for that hour or hour-and-a-half amount of time. I can tell you I am not looking forward to it next year."

Barthel says he'll have a lifetime of good memories of playing with many of the current and former Braves major leaguers.

"I got to play with a lot of them in spring training or when they would come down and play with us while they were rehabbing," Barthel said. "We also had some different functions together and a few of us had a bible study. We always went to John Smoltz' house. He's a good guy and (PGA golfer) Tiger Woods would be around some because they always play golf together."

He says he quickly learn which pros it was okay to approach and who not to go near.

"A lot of them are down to earth and a lot of them are not," Barthel said. "You had to know which ones you could talk to and which ones you should just leave alone and let them be."

Arkansas will go through its last workout of this week on Saturday morning, the 10th of 15 spring practices for the Razorbacks.

"I'm just going to keep concentrating on reading defenses," Barthel said. "I probably did that a little better earlier in the week than I did later. I'm getting in more plays and they are sending more stuff at me and it gets me sometime."

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UA Friday practice tidbits:

• The workout was the Razorbacks' third and final NCAA-manadated practice in shorts out of 15 with a lot of emphasis on the kicking game.

"We have got to reteach them sometime that when we say just helmets that it's not a holiday," Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt said. "We didn't get as much as we would have liked to get done because we still wanted to play fast. Sometimes when you put on just helmets and take off the pads, it's so easy to say we're not going to go as hard today.

"We did get some polish in," Nutt continued. "We hit the kicking game real hard - punt, punt return, kickoff team, field goal, field goal block. We hit on some of those teams and that was good. We had a good pass scale and ended up with some team."

• A previously planned scrimmage on Saturday was scrapped due to a lack of healthy offensive lineman and will instead just be a closed workout with a few scrimmage plays at the end.

"We are going to have the exact same practice in full pads as we did yesterday (Thursday)," Nutt said. "That's about the best we can do right now. We did get (offensive lineman) Jonathon Luigs back, but just for individual. He couldn't go full speed, but is stepping better and had it (a stitched up gash) taped up and it held together."

• Arkansas expected to have 14 or more prospects up for Junior Day. They'll get a tour of the facilities, go into some team meetings and get to watch practice.


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