State of the Hogs: New QB

Here's the take of HI.com publisher Clay Henry on the new Arkansas quarterback.

Casey Dick will start at quarterback for Arkansas against South Carolina on Saturday. Most everyone knows that by now.

But that's about the extent of the knowledge most possess about the true freshman from Allen, Texas. Most don't even know that he wears No. 11, something I think is most appropriate.

Think about it. He's the man Houston Nutt has charged with saving November for the Razorbacks. Yep, November is the 11th month of the year.

I didn't know a whole lot about Casey Dick, either. I did know that he quarterbacked out of the shotgun at Allen. But until talking with UA quarterback coach Roy Wittke on Tuesday, I wasn't aware that it was a true spread offense.

At that point I decided it was time to make a call to Dudley Dawson, our recruiting editor at Hawgs Illustrated. I asked him to pen a column for our Internet site on Casey Dick. Dudley was ultra comfortable with the subject since he'd driven to Texas twice last year to watch Dick play complete games, once at the start of the season and again when Allen made the playoffs.

Yes, Dudley confirmed, Dick was not a dropback passer. He did operate from the shotgun. Oh, he was more of a passer than a runner, but he did run some of the same option plays out of the shotgun that Arkansas installed for Matt Jones. They call it the radar option series and Dick was good at it.

The difference between a dropback passer and a shotgun passer are significant and possibly the single reason it's taken Dick until November to figure into the Arkansas offense. Do not minimize the fact that Dick had rarely taken a direct snap under center before coming to Arkansas.

Alex Smith, who ran a shotgun offense at Utah for three seasons, has struggled with the San Francisco 49ers offense this year because of that very reason. He's not comfortable taking a snap and turning his back on the defense to run a play. When you turn your back for a couple of seconds, rest assured that the defense is going to be in a different spot than it was when you took the snap. When you are in the shotgun, that doesn't happen.

Obviously, there is one other major mechanical difference between a dropback quarterback and a shotgun operator. It is the execution of the center-quarterback exchange. It is another reason it's taken Dick this long to emerge from the four-man quarterback race at Arkansas. No one has questioned his arm. It's a true gun, a plus arm by NFL standards.

Dick just hasn't been able to get enough time with the varsity to learn the offense. He's gotten plenty of reps, but most all of them have been running the scout team, giving the defense a picture of the new opponent each week. Most times, the scout team quarterback doesn't take a true snap from center either. He walks to the line with the ball and the center snaps a nerf ball that isn't even accepted by the quarterback. The defense can't waste snaps since practice time is so limited. A botched quarterback/center exchange is not something that the defense can afford. Time is too precious with the NCAA limit on practice time.

There is some good in that scout team time for Dick, though. He at least was throwing the ball more than Robert Johnson's backups with the varsity. Johnson was such a raw project that he needed almost ever snap with the varsity in team drills. Houston Nutt even said as much last week when he noted one quarterback (we now know it was Dick) was getting the bulk of the snaps and the others were "getting the scraps."

"Casey was getting in more throws than all of them with the scout team just because he took every snap," Roy Wittke said this week. "He was throwing a lot and that helped him. What caught our eye is the way he threw it down the field."

That is precisely what has been missing from the Arkansas offense this season and over the past several seasons since Matt Jones struggled with the deep throw at times, too.

Allen coach Tom Westerburg doesn't think Dick will struggle with the deep pass. That was his strength in high school, but he was much more than that. Here is what Westerburg told our Dudley Dawson last season.

"We threw the ball a whole lot more this year than we did the last because of his arm, knowledge of the game and ability to make the right decisions," Westerburg said last winter. "A lot of people think he just sat back there and threw it all the time, but he also makes great decisions on when to tuck it and run and avoid sacks."

It's not just that he will run that impressed people at Allen. It's the way he ran. He didn't run for the sidelines. He didn't try to juke defenders. He took them on head up, as Marcus Shavers told Dudley last winter, like a linebacker hits a running back. Dudley saw that in the two games he watched, both on scrambles and on option keepers. He's been wondering for some time when Dick would emerge from the scout team as a viable candidate for the starting job.

Here is Dudley's summation in his column at hawgsillustrated.com: "I am certain of one thing and that is Casey Dick has the makeup and the skills to make the most of this shot and will be a very good quarterback down the line - if not Saturday - for Arkansas."

If Dudley thinks Casey Dick is the right man, that's good enough for me. I trusted his judgment 14 years ago when he was the first person I invited to be a contributing writer at Hawgs Illustrated.

The question no one can answer is whether or not No. 11 will be the man at Arkansas for more than one November.

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