State of the Hogs: Quarterbacks

Fall football practice for Arkansas begins in three days. Media day arrives in four. Hopefully, by then I'll have my mind straight on how to communicate with these new quarterbacks.

A big part of my job is finding out what makes the Razorback quarterback tick. How do you break the ice with the man that most in our state are more interested in than the governor?

I liked to talk to Matt Jones about smallmouth fishing, turkey hunting or PlayStation2. Those were his hobbies. He'd rather talk about any of those than himself or football.

If you asked him about football, a long answer might be, "Cool. Sounds good. Cool." And, if he gave you three cools in one sentence it might be a good point for a follow-up question. One cool and it's a sign you need to switch gears. If you got cool in several different voice inflections you might ask another follow-up.

Jones might actually talk to you in full sentences about those other subjects. The best bet for opening a discussion about football might be to ask about one of his teammates.

I guess some of that I won't miss. Matt wasn't an easy interview. That's not to say he was ever anything but honest or cooperative with me. He always looked me in the eye when he talked to me. Other media members covering the UA beat don't say the same about Matt.

The new batch of quarterbacks -- Robert Johnson, Alex Mortensen and Cole Barthel -- are talkative enough. They answer questions with more detail than Matt, although don't appear to be in Barry Lunney's league as a talker.

Lunney was the head of the class as far as interviews among the Arkansas signal callers I've been around. You only needed about three questions to get about 30 pages of notes from a Lunney interview. And, if you were short on questions, Lunney would help you out. He could ask and answer the questions.

I'm not trying to poke fun at Lunney. He was good at his job (playing quarterback) and knew the writer's job, too. His wit was outstanding, too, and he could rescue you if you had a bad day asking questions.

Quinn Grovey was always a good interview and often was playful with writers. And, he seemed to like the media. Clint Stoerner was a wonderful interview, too. He interacted with the media in a manner similar to Grovey's.

Jones never seemed to trust many members of the media. After reading some of the stories about his style and lack of ability as a passer, leader and talker, I understood those thoughts. Perhaps he had good reason to feel that way. If he was going to be ripped by the media, why bother sitting down with them for an interview.

We don't know how these young quarterbacks are going to turn out in that regard.

Barthel, at age 22, might be the easist to predict. He's been around pro sports after four years of minor league baseball. He was around the Atlanta Braves clubhouse in spring training and saw how guys like John Smoltz and Chipper Jones conducted themselves around a heavy cluster of media.

After conducting a couple of one-on-one interviews with Barthel, it's obvious he knows how to handle himself in those situations. He is easy going and comfortable with the chit-chat, but seldom says a whole lot. That's probably how it's going to be with him. And, that's a safe pattern for a newbie. While he is 22, he's still a newbie here. No use stepping on any toes and he's been careful to say the right things.

I've already found one hook with Barthel. Although he went to high school in Alabama, he lived most of his life in Louisiana where duck hunting is a big thing. He'll talk duck hunting as long as you care to discuss the sport.

Johnson conducts interviews smoothly. He'll give you more than Jones, but it takes awhile for him to open up. The best hook for Johnson is a hook. He loves trout fishing. He's a novice fly fisherman, kinda like me. We can talk casting, the best flies for the White River and/or eateries on US Highway 412.

Mortensen is pure football, with a special insight into the NFL game. Of course, that's his father's line of work. Alex has been to most of the recent Super Bowls and has probably met most of the quarterbacks who have played in those games. He'll talk about John Elway at length. His UA jersey is No. 7, same as the one Elway wore.

Mortensen is a little like Jones in that he'd rather talk about his teammates, even his fellow QBs. But he'll talk plenty about anything you have on your notebook.

All three probably smile more than Jones, although if you knew Jones, there were times that you could detect a playful sparkle in his eyes that told you he was ready to come out of his shell ever so slightly.

I won't miss having to dig and dig to get a few good quotes out of Matt Jones when football begins next week. I think this batch of QBs will fill my notebook a bit easier. I don't think there is a Barry Lunney-like personality in this bunch, but only time will tell.

It may be a bit before we know if post-practice interviews are fun or just plain hard work. It's all part of the process of finding out about a new Razorback quarterback.



CLAY HENRY IS THE PUBLISHER OF HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH FRIDAY. E-MAIL: CLAY@NWAONLINE.NET

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