Quarterbacks Get One More Chance To Shine

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas quarterback Alex Mortensen hasn't had many chances to make an impression in scrimmages this spring because numerous injuries to offensive linemen have limited the Razorbacks.

The redshirt freshman also hasn't played in front of a few thousand fans since his senior season at Landmark Christian (Ga.) High in the fall of 2003.

Mortensen said those are two big reasons he's excited about this morning's Red and White scrimmage in Razorback Stadium.

"Hey, I finally get to play," Mortensen said. "It's been awhile since I've gotten the chance and I miss it bad. That's really the most fun, just going out there to compete your butt off and play hard. I'm looking forward to it."

Arkansas' spring-ending scrimmage, which begins at 11 a.m., still carries weight for Mortensen, sophomore Robert Johnson and 22-year-old true freshman Cole Barthel even though it will be limited to 40 or 50 plays.

It's the final chance for the quarterbacks, who continue to fight for the starting job in place of departed senior Matt Jones, to leave an important impression on the Razorbacks before they break until August.

That's why quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke said Mortensen, Johnson and Barthel are eager to step on the field this morning.

"There's no doubt that each one of them is very competitive and want to be put under the gun," Wittke said. "They want to be put in live situations. They want the opportunity to show us and everyone else what they're capable of doing.

"I know they're all very anxious to have (this morning's scrimmage) get here."

Wittke is, too, because he wants another opportunity to evaluate the quarterbacks in a game-like atmosphere. Arkansas held a 60-play scrimmage on April 2, but have been limited this spring because of injuries. The Hogs got in only 20 scrimmage plays last Saturday with just five healthy offensive linemen.

Wittke said all three quarterbacks improved this spring, but none were consistent enough to separate from the pack. Wittke said there's no "timetable" on when the Hogs intend to name a starter and probably won't make a decision this spring, even if one quarterback turns in a strong performance today.

Johnson, who is Arkansas' only experienced quarterback after completing 10 of 19 passes in six appearances last season, said he has no problem with that.

"I don't put too much into that," Johnson said. "(The competition) brings out the best in whoever you are. You've got to compete to the best of your ability and just go for it every day. You can't think a lot about it, just go out there and have fun with it."

Said Barthel: "That just tells everybody to work hard all summer and we'll see what happens. I don't think any of us have really been thinking about that. It gives us another opportunity to work hard this summer."

Barthel, who played baseball in the Atlanta Braves organization, said his biggest accomplishment has been knocking off the rust that accumulated during his four seasons off the football field. Mortensen has been happy with the way he has grasped Arkansas' system. Johnson believes the biggest improvement he made this spring is finding comfort in the pocket, a trait he's hoping to display today.

Their work in live situations will be an important factor when the starter is chosen in the next few months. But Wittke said it won't be the only factor considered.

Wittke said the quarterbacks have been monitored closely during the entire spring, with each throw, drill and situation recorded, reviewed and analyzed.

"We tried to stress that every rep that they take is important, especially when you consider those repetitions have been limited," Wittke said. "Certainly, what they do in live situations carries some weight. Production is something we've talked about.

"But we'll also take a look at the progress made and we'll take a look at the spring as a whole in our evaluation."

That makes the Red and White scrimmage the last chance to leave an impression.

Johnson has taken the first snaps in every scrimmage opportunity this spring and will do the same today. But the repetitions will be split evenly between Johnson, Mortensen and Barthel, giving each a chance to work behind the first-team line.

Mortensen said the quarterback that stays cool under defensive pressure, plays fast and avoids costly mistakes will probably make the biggest impression today.

"It's exciting," Mortensen said. "The thing is, in spring practice, you learn so much that you have to think about things, which is good. But (today) is an opportunity where you don't have to think about them and now you're on autopilot.

"We can just go out there and play. That's what I'm looking forward to."

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