Brave New World

With starter Robert Johnson missing Saturday's scrimmage due to injury, former baseball player Cole Barthel gets more into the football swing of things while a plethora of kickers take their best shot at earning some time as well.

Earlier Saturday afternoon, seven of former Atlanta Braves minor league teammates were in Atlanta for a major league game against the San Diego Padres.

Barthel, who spent four years playing with guys like Braves star rookie Jeff Francour, was instead taking snaps in Reynolds Razorback fans and perhaps - early on - had University of Arkansas football fans wondering why he wasn't the one named the starter recently.

"At night when I am watching them (the Braves) play, you kind of wish you were out there playing with those guys, especially since three of my best friends - (outfielder) Jeff Francouer, (pitcher) Blaine Boyer and (catcher) Brian McCann are starting in the major league - and I have played with seven of the Braves starters right now at one time or another," Barthel said. "Plus you can do whatever you want during the day.

"Here it's school and ball and practice and your time is all occupied and that's a bummer some of the time," Barthel continued. "And I am not as good a student as a I am going to be. But I am also not as good a quarterback as I am going to be. I'm glad I am here and I just want to get better."

Barthel, running third team right now, took a step toward that Saturday night by completing 5-of-8 passing for 88 yards with one interception, getting the offense in the end zone the first time.

He completed passes of 25 yards to Dedrick Poole and 24 to Cedric Logan, then looked on as De'Arrius Howard took it the final 12 yards for the scrimmage's first scoring.

"It was an okay effort, but I missed several guys later on in the scrimmage that I should have hit and I think of two right now," Barthel said. "I think we overall did some good things, certainly a lot better than we did in the last two practices. We've got the players it's just a matter of executing."

Barthel admitted to being uncomfortable during the spring when he was facing a live rush for the first time in five years and trying to wade through a much more expansive playbook and more intricate defense than he saw.

He says it is still an ongoing process, but it is at least getting better and just hopes to be ready if needed behind starter Robert Johnson - who sit out Saturday's scrimmage to let an injury heal and current back up Alex Mortensen.

"I am getting more comfortable every day, but I still not anywhere near where I need to be," Barthel said. "Thankfully Robert is helping me out a lot. I am doing a lot better than in the spring. It so much more fun when you know what is going on."

"I'm just here to do what I can do to help the team," Barthel added. "Robert is the man. He's starting and he is going to do good. I'll just try to be ready if I am needed. I am not worried about whether I am the second or the third-team quarterback. I knew it was going to be real hard for me to start."

While that first drive was against the third team defense, Nutt took notice.

"He executed, took care of the ball and got us in the end zone," Nutt said. ""He's an older guy - just turned 23 - and has been on some bus trips, a lot of bus trips, so probably nothing fazes him and he probably gets excited when he sees fans in the stands. He does seem to do a little bit better in a game."

Mortensen was 5-of-11 passing for 58 yards with an interception while true freshman Casey Dick finished up by going 2-of-6 for 53 yards with one pick as well.

That left UA quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke summing up the efforts with a mixed review.

"I think the best way to sum it up was they did good things at times and not so good things at others," Wittke said. "Alex missed a couple of throws I know he would like to have back and Cole made a couple of mistakes with the handoff exchange. Those are things that can't happen and we have been harping on and emphasizing to try and eliminate.

"On the positive end they both made some good throws," Wittke added. "Alex made some nice throws in third down situations to keep drives alive and Cole made a couple of good throws as well. Overall I thought there were more positives than negatives.

What Wittke did think was invaluable was having Mortensen and Barthel in as close a situation as they can be right now to the Sept. 3 opener with Missouri State.

"Going through the season by using only one quarterback, the chances of that are slim," Wittke said. "In essence, this was like playing a game and our number one guy was hurt and the other guys have to come in. There was a different feel in preparation, a different feel than just saying ‘okay, Alex you take the next four reps with the first group'. You can't simulate that other than to have it happen like it did.

"It's also good for the rest of our offense to have those kids under center, " Wittke said. "to have those kids have to make plays on third down and in the red zone and allow those guys to see them do good things and create a little confidence in them."

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• Special teams and WR coach James Shibest talked about how much work was done with the special teams in the scrimmage.

"We tried to really work a lot of that stuff, probably more than we ever have before," Shibest said. "We just think it is a critical year that we make a lot of plays in those groups. I thought it was a great evaluation with all the specialists."

• Arkansas had six of them kicking 40 yarders and they were 7-out-14 officially.

"We tried to bring quite a few in and it's tough because we didn't scholarship one coming out," Shibest said. "We wanted to give ourselves at least two or three good choices. I thought the (Will) Arnold kid did a good job for a first year guy, Dorcheck kicked off well.

Asked if returnee Chris Balsiero was the favorite, Shibest hedged.

"I don't know," Shibest said. "We are going to sit and talk about that probably more tomorrow. I don't think we are going to make any decisions yet. We'll probably go one more week. We've got so many we just wanted to cut them in half right now and go. We hope that is a pretty hard decision to be honest with you. Not just punters and kickers, but returners as well."

• Talked about how Jonathon Dorchek, the 6-8 true freshman transfer from Hargrave Military Academy, made a move with his kickoffs tonight and would be competing next week for that job.

"He is probably better at kickoffs right now than anything," Shibest said. "We are probaly going to narrow this thing down to two or three guys and let them compete for one more week and go from there."

• Feels good about Michael Coe back there on punt returns, noting that while he - as receiver coach - was upset about the play that led to Coe's 92-yard interception return for a score, he sure looked like a punt returner while doing it.

"He is just older and maturer and going to make better decisions," Shibest said. "We've got some good young ones that are going to be good in the future."

Noted that Peyton Hills would also be given a shot back there next week as they get a couple firmed up back there.

"That may be a new fad to have a 230-pound punt returner back there," Shibest said. "He was sick today and couldn't work.

• Houston Nutt talked about how he thought Jeremy Davis had been making a move in the punting game and it would still be contested next week as well.


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